Data Companies that “Predict” Consumer Behavior Are the Measurement Menaces of the Month

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We recently received a press release from Zenreach: “So when will we finally bounce back to those high shopping levels we saw in 2019? The data experts from Zenreach… predict it will be September 9, 2020.”

Whoa! September 9th? That’s a Wednesday. I wonder if they mean in the morning or the afternoon?

I don’t doubt that Zenreach’s model can make that prediction, nor do I have any questions about their data or their methodology. I do, however, question whether they have sufficiently considered the full range of variables that will affect just when we decide to go back to in-store shopping. That’s why we are naming them, and other companies who try to predict consumer behavior with limited data, our Measurement Menaces of the Month.

Granted, I may not be typical of the consumers that firms like Zenreach tracks. I’m over 60, so I feel more vulnerable to COVID-19. I’m very comfortable ordering online. I live on a farm, grow most of my own food, and consider shopping a chore rather than a pleasure. So me wandering around packed retail stores in September is about as likely as our current unemployment rate dropping to 3% by then.

The only thing we know for certain is that uncertainty is going to be with us for a very long time. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. The majority of us won’t have access to a proven vaccine until 2021 at the earliest, and a great many people will continue to avoid crowds until we do. And that’s based on what data is available today. The other thing we know for sure is that new data emerges every week, social upheaval seems to be happening every week, and whatever models you create can be invalidated by the news at any minute.

So it’s fine to build out models that drive headlines. Financial shows might well pick them up, and some people might believe them for a week or two. But I’m a New Englander. We have a saying up here: “Don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.”

My advice is, if you don’t like the data you’re seeing today, just wait a minute. Congrats to all the data companies like Zenreach who think they can predict consumer behavior, our Measurement Menaces of the Month. ∞

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash.


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