• Ron Thurston

Retail Metrics and What Actually Matters

The following is adapted from Retail Pride, The Guide to Celebrating Your Accidental Career by Ron Thurston


In retail, we traditionally track our results daily (even hourly!), week by week, month by month. We look at sales against last year’s, units per transaction, Net Promoter scores, conversion, and a number of other relevant metrics.


These numbers can help keep us on track to our goals and alert us to areas that need our attention. But numbers can only tell us what is happening, not how or why.


If your store’s numbers are up from last year, for instance, that’s great news, but without knowing why, how can you hope to replicate those results? Or if you only achieved that increase with aggressive tactics that brought short-term results at the expense of long-term customer loyalty, can you really say the increase is a success?


While metrics are essential, the journey of how they are achieved is equally important. You must achieve your metrics the right way and seek to understand the story behind the data.

Metrics Can’t Drive Every Decision

Obviously we should seek to achieve our metrics, but we can’t let metrics drive every decision. When you’re overly focused on metrics, you begin to see customers merely as dollar signs. Customers can feel this, and trust me: they don’t like it.


Customers have limited time and multiple options. If you want them to choose you, you need to provide them with a consistent, positive customer experience. You’re not going to do that by treating them like a dollar sign and pitching a product or service relentlessly.


Selling and retail are arts, and caring about the people who buy what you sell is the key to success. When you put empathy before sales, you build better customer relationships, and this can result in higher sales results and repeat business over time.


Great companies appreciate their customers as the most valuable assets (aside from the team), treat them like human beings, worry about them, and strive to give them a fantastic experience. When you let customers and their feedback drive your decisions, your metrics will typically follow.

Data Tells a Story

While your metrics shouldn’t drive every decision, they are a source of valuable information. Especially for leaders, metrics are how you prove your skill and impact. To be most effective, though, you need to look at not just the data, but the story behind the data.


In a results-focused retail environment, storytelling with data is a subtle art that can lend credibility and impact to any argument. Nothing summarizes an issue like an inarguable series of numbers, but numbers alone can be boring. And remember that numbers can only tell you what happened, not how or why.


As you practice the craft of metrics storytelling, ask, “What were the results we delivered, and how did we achieve them?” Maybe you changed the store’s display, maybe you trained associates to ask certain questions, maybe the company ran a sale that drove a lot of foot traffic.


Digging into the how will help you replicate the results in the future, and it will also alert you to where credit and praise are due.

Don’t Shy Away From Your Emotions

When you think about metrics, emotions might be the last thing that comes to mind. In my experience, though, when you dig into the why behind results, there are usually emotional motivators there.


For instance, the results I’ve delivered in my career have been directly influenced by the emotional core I developed very early. My grandfather and his people-focused leadership are a source of inspiration for me. It's a big part of my story, and I have learned not to shy away from it, because a compelling story requires emotion.


Two people can talk about the exact same experience with wildly different results. One captivates, while the other has members of the audience checking their watches. We tend to appreciate the exciting stories, but the difference between a good story and a bad one isn’t the subject matter. It’s the emotion the storyteller infuses into their narrative.


Every story has an emotional core, and it comes from the storyteller’s feelings about the events they’re describing. Think about how you felt when the experience took place. What was motivating for you? What troubled you? How did you feel about your surroundings? If you can express that, you can connect with your listeners, and they’ll hang on every word.

Communicate the Story

For your metrics story to have an impact, you need to tell it. It's vital that you communicate your key performance indicators and behavioral metrics in all directions: up, down, and sideways.


Your leader wants to know what's going on, and so does your team. They won't be motivated to improve unless they know how they're doing. Most of the suggestions on how to improve will come from your team anyway!


By focusing on not just the data but how you achieve those metrics, you can better create a positive customer experience, and you can craft a compelling story that demonstrates your value as a leader and motivates your team.


For more advice on metrics and storytelling in retail, you can find Retail Pride on Amazon.


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