Trusting the Data

I had a recent experience at Walmart that pointed out how great it is to have good information on inventory.  I wanted a patio set and saw one in the store that I wanted but could not take it at the time.  The person helping me said they had two left and one was being sold as we spoke and she would save the other one for us till noon the next day.

I returned that evening and the set was nowhere to be found.  The manager offered to try to find it and call me back.  The next day they could not find it and suggested we look at other stores.  He found one in a store nearby according to the computer but said "I had better call to make sure".  I shows they have several."  It turned out they did not have any.  Another store showed they had three and the call confirmed they had it and would hold it till we could come and get it. 

I called before I left to pick it up and it took me several calls before they could locate the set that was on hold for me.  I finally got to the store and picked it up but what a hassle.

If one has a system that should be updated when a sale is made, how come the people in the store do not trust the system.  I expect they have been burned too many times. 

Does this not indicate the company really does not know what inventory they have?  I expect they are making important merchandising decisions on bad information. 

Sometimes when you ask people about such systems they tell you how great they are.  Then if you ask a follow-up questions about problems with the system, you will get a long list of problems.  I expect that many of these systems offer some useful information but still have significant data quality problems. 

I think we all need to strive to improve the quality of the data that is provided to the people who are on the front line dealing with the customer.    As Harvey used to say "The client is King!’ 

  1. Ron Reply

    Is’t this just a reflection of strategy. Walmart focuses on low prices through a vast global supply chain. That’s what attracts their customers. If you go to someone like Niemen Marcus or even a speciality patio furniture store, the experience I’m sure would be quite different. The first point of contact that you had in the store would likely take ownership of the problem and offer to have it delivered free to your home. The story is about strategy… the fact that you perserved and purchased the patio set despite the level of service you received seems to prove that Walmart has it right. There will always be differences in the inventory due to theft, misclassification, etc. The difference is in how your client team responds…

  2. Graham Boundy Reply

    When Automobiles were first introduced they were slow, fragile, loud and unreliable. Over the last century we have come to a point where we would have trouble living without these vehicles.
    If they had been dismissed out of hand then where would we be?
    At the same time the K-tel record selector (introduced in the 1970’s) has gone the way of the dodo. Some would say a good thing.
    Now all we have to determine when a new system arrives if it is an automobile or a record selector?

  3. Jim Reply

    If the data is not correct at the beginning, we will often reject the system out of hand. Many years ago we introduced a new reporting system for our consulting projects. The data was ETL’d to the system and it was all incorrectly ETL’d. We hired a student called Stephen to pour through all the data and fix it up so people would use the reports. His first data warehousing experience.
    We were successful and creating reports that people used. The system was a working prototype for future systems that gave us much better reports later.
    I had not realized till now that the activity was ETL.
    The lesson was that no matter how good the system might be if the data is wrong people reject it out of hand. Acceptance after the first mistake was a difficult process.
    (How do you like my three letter words, Graham?)

  4. graham boundy Reply

    We develop trust the old fashioned way… we earn it. Systems are no different. If I constantly receive incorrect information from a system I will mistrust it everytime.
    The question is, Is bad information better than no information at all? If there are 100 items in inventory and the system reports there are 101 no one cares. But if inventory on hand is 0 and the system reports there is one, that’s when we get a frustrated customer. Perhaps we should build the systems with interval estimates. Then the system would report inventory plus or minus 10%. No body would need to get frustrated until the actual inventory was checked. Don’t count your chickens until you account for shrinkage, manual transfers with no data entry, and exchanges due to breakage.
    Harvey also said, ‘people get the systems they deserve.’ A corollary to you get what you pay for. It might not be the system, it might be the training, it might not be the training it might be the disgruntled people earning minimum wage.
    We should also weigh our frustration with the retailer against the cost we would incur if we had to build the item we are buying ourselves. There is a price to be paid for modern convenience and patio furniture manufacture in China. That price is, from time to time you’ll be inconvenienced by a random collapse of the system.
    Order out of chaos… You know, it’s a miracle we can function as a society at all.
    Price check on the pink, plastic flamingos please!

  5. mip Reply

    And while they are busy fixing their data issues, they have to find some way of speeding up their checkout lines. I have on more than one occasion simply left my items and gone elsewhere because of the ridiculous delays at the cash, due to product prices on the physical tags not matching the price indicated in the cash register computers.

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