Movers & Shakers Q&A – Clive Humby, chief data scientist, Starcount

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Clive Humby, chief data scientist, Starcount

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Unless you are a grocer then we’ve concluded that your own data is not enough. We want to show retailers how to use other data sources and from this enable them to be able to react to trends. We also help them determine trends from fads. How do you spot a trend and build this into your business plan?

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

We’re asking organisations to behave differently but basically they are stuck on the train tracks. If you tell them that 50% of the sales from their in-store customers are online so why not experiment with lockers for click & collect in-store they find it hard. They can’t cope even with uncomplicated things. Just dedicating 50 sq ft at the back of the store to this is too hard for them. The reality is that all retail businesses are so lean that there is no flexibility to experiment. They’ve been squeezed and squeezed and now there is no capacity to experiment. But they must. It’s not money that is the barrier but the business’ operating models.

3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

I wish we’d spotted the importance of other data earlier on. We’d been so successful with Dunnhumby with grocery but when we worked with other retailers it was not as successful. Their suppliers did not have the money to pay for the data. We did not think about web data including search and the click stream. We were slow to react to this but we are catching up – through Starcount.

4. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control a growing digital landscape?

Everything is now so fragmented. The digital landscape has so many components plugged in that it’s difficult to know where the data is. Micro services are disintermediating the retailers. These services generate their own identifiers so the retailer does not recognise the customer from the data. This can be the case with click & collect if you use Doddle for instance because the customer becomes just a Doddle code number. It’s all fragmenting the customer data.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

The store estate will become more of an experience and they will be more places to dwell. The high street will not have a role any more for purchasing many items as they will be increasingly bought online. This applies particularly to clothing, general merchandise and hard goods whereas there will always be a role for the food, leisure and entertainment categories. We’ll see brands that traditionally sold through retailers now go direct-to-consumer. This makes it hard for those brands that are not loved but are just liked. It’s going to be a challenge for them.

Dyson has done it though. Ten years ago it was all about vacuum cleaners that looked weird but now it is hairdryers that sell for £299 and fans that have made Dyson into a loved brand.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

Yes but voice will be important too. The question is: what is a mobile device? Is the Apple Watch a mobile device? Mobile phones are the most obvious candidates but will Siri and Alexa be the way that we talk to the cloud. For now phones will be primary channel but how will they satisfy an older generation who find it hard just seeing the images on these small devices. This issue will become more important.

7. What retail businesses do you admire?

We’re interested in organisations that started online and have then looked at stores. But also traditional retailers like country clothing brand Orvis. The people in-store know their stuff and recognise what the products are for. I’m also fascinated by coffee and worry for Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero because the smaller chains are now doing it better.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer/service-provider-to-retail what would you have liked to do?

I love understanding people through data. My childhood hero was James Cook the explorer as I like discovering and finding new things and recognising patterns. Social media is amazing for this and I’m still learning about it.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

If somebody had told us that Dunnhumby would have been that successful then I would not have not believed it. Edina [Dunn, co-founder] must take credit as she created the business model that involved brands paying for the data. It’s now about how do we do it again. It’s fascinating as retailers do need help now.

10. Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

David Potts, CEO at Morrison’s has done an amazing job. He took the bull by the horns. Traditional retail has been a bit underwhelming although athleisure has done well – with Sweaty Betty a very clever business. And Imogen Wetherhed, co-founder & CEO of Qudini, has a very simple [successful] business.

This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100 report.