How To Outsmart the Competition Using Actionable Pricing Insights

Posted by Philip Huthwaite on March 23, 2023
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Episode 41 of the eCommerce Matter's Podcast is now available, entitled 'How to outsmart the competition using actionable pricing insights'.

On this episode, Philip Huthwaite, BlackCurve CEO, and Rob Horton, BlackCurve Chief Product Officer, introduce actionable pricing insights, and how viewing analytics in this manner, can be a game changer for the way retail businesses make daily decisions. The episode also covers the launch of actionable insights inside the BlackCurve platform, as well as teasing what is coming next in the product roadmap.

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Podcast Transcript

Philip Huthwaite

Welcome to Ecommerce Matters. Ecommerce Matters is the UK's leading e-commerce pricing podcast brought to you by Blackcurve.

Each episode explores how retailers can better understand competitor pricing and use pricing insights to improve online visibility and checkout conversion. This is season three, episode 41, entitled how to Outsmart the Competition Using Pricing Insights.

I'm Philip Huthwaite, founder and CEO of Blackcurve. And I'm joined, as ever, by Dr. Rob Horton, Chief Product Officer at BlackCurve. Let's get pricing!

So today we're talking about, how to outsmart the competition using actionable pricing insights. And really what we're going to cover is a few key things, a few key points.

We're going to set a level playing field and make sure that we're all on the same page in terms of what do we mean by actionable insights?

We're then going to look into what are actionable pricing insights and really look at why is it important for retailers to consider actionable insights and make them a part of their everyday decision-making?

And then we'll end on, how does BlackCurve use actionable insights to support retailers? With a bit of a teaser for the listeners of what's coming in the future. Future releases from us here at BlackCurve Towers. So, with that said, let's dive into what are Actionable Insights?

So, for those of you who want a handy guide, we actually we actually wrote a blog on the topic earlier this month, entitled 'The Beginner's Guide To Actionable Insights'. So it's certainly worth a read of that. And that's really what we'll cover and use as a foundation for today's episode. So, effectively, Actionable Insights, if you think of it as almost like a pyramid, if you will, and most of us in our organisation, we're swimming with data, right? We have tonnes and tonnes of data. This data is made up of numbers, texts, combination of the two. Often, from a retailer's perspective, that data might consist of a list of products, so your product inventory, or it might consist of your sales history, so a list of transactions that your customers have done at checkout. You might have marketing data showing how well each of your products is performing in its raw form.

You probably get excited about this, Rob. You can probably very quickly look at data and understand what it means coming from your background. But for us mere mortals generally, in this format, it can be massively, overwhelming. You can have hundreds of thousands of rows, millions of rows, millions of columns.


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Rob Horton

Yeah, I think for whoever you are, I mean, I'm not living in the matrix, Philip! In that form, it's just too much for humans, really, unless you're kind of Chat GPT or something, you can't really take it all in, can you?


Philip Huthwaite

Retailers, I guess, are overwhelmed of that data. And then really what we want to do is we want to get information from it. So we want to make sure we want to present that data in a way that's manageable. And so more often than not, this data is presented and aggregated to retailers in multiple different platforms.

You might have third-party tools, you might be using Tableau or Shopify Dashboards. Even in its simplest form, if you've got your data in an Excel spreadsheet and you're creating a graph in that Excel spreadsheet, that's when the data is starting to come to life.

It's where the data is presented in a format that you can almost start to make decisions off the back of it. So in the Black Curve platform, to give an example of this, we have a great segmentation chart which effectively as a snapshot, enables you to see how many products are away from the average market position, or the lowest price in the market, or the highest price in the market.

It's starting to make the data more understandable, but even at this stage, it's reliant on. If you don't know pricing and you've just come to this podcast, you're probably thinking, what the hell, Philip, are you talking about? I can't visualise that chart. And obviously, between us, we've got sort of 20-plus years or so of pricing experience. So it's easy for us to quickly jump in and understand these charts, the charts on their own unless you have that prior knowledge of how to interrogate the chart, it's not in a useful manner.

And then where the actionable insights come is where it really ultimately, effectively, I don't want to say sort of calls a spade a spade, but really that's what it is. Using actual insights and using technology that provides actual insights, such as BlackCurve effectively cuts through all the crap, it cuts through all the noise. It doesn't require necessarily massive masses of background expertise in our space from a pricing perspective. So it means that if you're just coming into whichever subject matter area you're dealing with, you can pick it up and it will tell you this is what your data is telling you. And really succinctly, really simply, really obviously without needing any prior knowledge. And then what it does, what the clever bit is that then it tells you what to do. So it tells you, right, this is what your data is telling you, and this is what you need to do. This is our recommendation if you will. This is our next step.

And then the best tools that offer actionable insights enable you to track. Right. Have you done that action? Has it made a change in the business? Has it contributed towards a positive step change inside the organisation? And it tracks the performance of your actions. So therefore it means that especially when you're having to make lots of decisions each and every day, you can really be sure that you've got almost like a framework that you can track the performance of your decisions, really.

So a lot of the time in businesses, we're making decisions day in, day out, but very rarely, unless you're treating it as almost like a scientific experiment, we make the decision and we forget about it and we move on to the next thing and we kind of almost hope that it's done the right thing. Whereas actionable insights enable you to track the performance of your decision-making.

Is there anything that you think might be worth adding, Rob?


Rob Horton

The way I think about that pyramid is that as you go from kind of raw data all the way up to actual insight, you're reducing the amount of specific subject matter expertise you need to do something. So if you think about, like you were saying, at the raw data level, you need to be an engineer or a data analyst or a data scientist of something that level to really interact with. Is it just technically right? Even before you can start making business decisions, the layer up. You need to be an analyst, you certainly need some subject matter expertise because you need to be able to cut and slice and understand the data and the rest of it. And so what the actionable insights is for me, it's that you understand your business, someone suggests something and then you can gut cheque.

So it might be like, I don't know, to use an example, your competitors have moved prices. You should probably increase the price too. And then you can look at that and go, okay, that seems sensible, but you couldn't have dug that out as easily because you'd have to be looking at that specific product in that mess of data in order to pull that out.

So that's kind of how I think about it, in that, it's just ease of access to the decision that you should be making.


Philip Huthwaite

Yes. Just an extension of that. We had a customer sign up yesterday that had 190,000 SKUs. Right. And I think when we've analysed it, I think across all of their inventory, they've got about 600 plus competitors because they're just selling such a wide mix of products.

If you just looked at a raw database of all the price positions one day and compared it to the next, I mean, you would want to run for the hills! And whilst, okay, you, Rob, or me or one of the team that's involved in pricing, okay, we could go, right, I just need to triage this and I'm going to sort the data and find the biggest movers, for example, and prioritse it that way. Unless you've been involved in pricing for quite a long time, you don't necessarily know where to start or what's going to give the greatest impact.

And I quite like the point that you mentioned earlier that how many of us have tried to load up big files in Excel and it crashes it right? Or it just takes every day, every time you make a change, you see that dreaded loading bar and you go, Please don't corrupt, please just save and commit. Then you get the Microsoft error. And it kills it. And you're like, oh, for crying out loud. So I guess actionable insights, done right, effectively enable you, rapidly cuts through all of your data, amalgamate it very succinctly, and puts it on a plate for whether you're a subject matter expert or not to make decisions. And I guess from a business owner perspective that you're employing either a small team or a large team for different parts of your business, you've got to trust them with that decision-making. And sometimes it is quite hard for business owners to let go, especially sometimes sort of newer businesses.

I hope you're not pointing any fingers at me there, Rob! So this basically almost de-risks the decision-making because it gives actual insights, and gives a framework for your team.


Rob Horton

And also, especially with the kind of a size of business we work with, people are busy, right? Like, you don't necessarily have time if you're selling 160,000 products, you've probably got, I don't know, 20% of the inventory that drives the bulk of your revenue and you don't really have the time to go digging in the rest of it.

At least that's what we've seen historically. And people in smaller businesses tend to wear many hats. So having things that service, that up to you and say you should be looking at this specific thing or this change has happened in this material is really powerful because it means you can handle things on an exception basis rather than having to go digging yourself if that
makes sense.


Philip Huthwaite

Absolutely. I'd encourage any retailer to make sure that they've got this robust framework. So I guess in terms of there are some potential negatives to using actual insights because obviously, we got to have a balance. We're not quite the BBC, but we've got to have a balance.

No comment! We picked the wrong month to say that. Good old Lineker!

What are some of the disadvantages of actionable insights that you see Rob?


Rob Horton

Well, it really depends on how you're using them, actually, because if you're using them, just looking at them and then making a decision, by and large, you've got a human in the machine. It's only if there are too many that it gets a bit overwhelming and then you kind of start ignoring them that it's problematic.

I would guess from my perspective for an example of that is if they were telling you you've got 160,000 products and they're telling you every time competitors change price, you're going to be overwhelmed by that. It's not going to be useful. You're going to be more interested when a large price change has happened, rather than someone changes price by a penny.

Where they get more problematic, actually, is if you take that human out and you start automating off the back of them or start building them into processes, then you have to be pretty sure that they're kind of heavily bedded down and you understand them well.

It's the same danger that you get with automated pricing because automated pricing really is just kind of a very specific example of actionable insights. Right. It's a machine telling you what price your product should be, and you're saying, okay, I trust the machine. The machine can just happily go and do it. I guess that's my view. But I have a slight bias in this because of my background, so I guess it's probably easier for me to sort the wood from the trees than it may be for other people.


Philip Huthwaite

Yeah, but I think just to take up the baton there, ultimately, I see the main issue sometimes, or the disadvantage of actionable insights, is it can lead to confirmation bias. So even you, Rob, are a makeup of your previous, however many years you've been on this planet. Right. So if you use actionable insights, you've got to almost leave your prior beliefs at the door and make sure that you are looking at all of the decisions that are being recommended to you and be open to testing all of the actions that are okay.

To give you an example, sometimes we have trial users that basically sort of have come up with this belief that in order to win, I need to be the cheapest. So, therefore, they only focus on the insights where they're more expensive than their competitors and they look to reduce their price.

Now, okay, they clearly see that that does uptick revenue, but they're ignoring the insights that tell them, well, actually, you can get away with increasing the price of this product because you've got the best stock availability or you have the best brand power or you have the best returns policy or whatever it might be.


Rob Horton

So I completely buy that the one we see a lot I think is people who are moving online in particular, getting very caught up in a specific competitor list because they're the people they've traditionally known and competed against. Right? So they'll have you see this even with massive, massive stores, I won't name names, but like real big high street names where they focus on the kind of who they see. The four are the four key competitors. And then that leads into you may only then look at the insights based around those four competitors right, and ignore everyone else. And some small upstarts just taking a market share because they're selling a Hoover for 50 quid less than you, but because they're buying the brand, buying the Hoover brand, not your brand, they don't care.

So, yeah, I think the use and especially kind of all those classic actually all those kind of classic portfolio management biases, confirmation bias, because I'm racking my brains now. But the one where you hold on to things or hold on to stock or products that you like, right, they're traditionally your good performers, but the market may be saying that actually, it's not doing so well. Or the demand for those is diminishing. And therefore you kind of keep making decisions that otherwise you shouldn't.

All of that will come into play because you're not actually emotionlessly automating the outcome of the decision with just kind of solid business rules. You're still putting a human in it. So, yeah, I mean, the disadvantage is probably all the same behavioral issues that you see in stock pickers or people in the city or whatever. I haven't really thought about that. That's interesting. Yeah, I think it's a very good example.


Philip Huthwaite

I'm regularly trying to challenge our prospects to not have the horse blinkers up and consider the whole market because to a certain extent, especially where products are not repeated purchases, the buyer doesn't necessarily know your webshop from Adam. Right. And I only compete with these four retailers. Well, actually, Google's showing 25 people that are selling this product or ten people selling this product. So you've got to consider them all or you've got to work out what data points enable you to not ignore the competition.

It's quite hard to leave our gut feel, gut feel at the door, but you got to sort of lean into opening your mind to avoid this confirmation bias issue

To help can help listeners visualise what are the types of actionable insight tools that are available because it's likely that a lot of you are using actionable insights and you're not necessarily aware that you're using these tools. A number of you will be using search engine optimization tools. So you come onto a dashboard or you download a report where it flags to you all the issues with your website, for example, where you don't have the right header tags, or you don't have the right metadata description, or I don't know, your URL is too short and not descriptive enough. And all of these tools basically flag to you and there are tonnes of them like Uber Suggest, AhRefs, and SEMRush, there are tonnes of them. They flag to you what actions you should do and then they monitor if you've completed those actions.


Rob Horton

This is quite a well-developed space. They tend to be like do these five things and this is the output you'll see and you do the five things and then the tool shows you the output, which is really good. So that's kind of, I think, the real one for me. And then you rinse and repeat. So that behavioral loop is kind of everywhere, really. Everywhere where they want you to improve an experience anyway.


Philip Huthwaite

I think this is now a good time to talk about actionable pricing insights and I guess where BlackCurve sits in this. So I very much see Black Curve as almost it's like the SEO tool equivalent. It's the price decision tool. It supports you to make pricing decisions day in, and day out. It's recommending specific tactical decisions that you should make each and every day, and then it's tracking how well those decisions are performing. Right. That's our bread and butter.

So I guess, Rob, it would be great if you could take us through some of the actionable insights that we're surfacing to customers.


Rob Horton

Yeah, so I'll start at a really high level, actually. For me, pricing is ad tech, pricing is SEO. And if you're not thinking about that in a kind of post-pandemic, e-commerce-driven world, you're lagging behind the curve. And so I'm trying not to use streetwear terms because I've started thinking about kind of the insights we do in kind of packages or drops.

So the first package that we're going out with really in BlackCurve is all around using your data and pricing to optimise your search performance. So what does that mean? Well, if you are a retailer selling on Google, you probably use the Merchant Centre. You probably have a whole load of data in there about your products, and some of it you may have filled out and some of it you won't have filled out.

Now, in the kind of new Google Ads world where they do a lot of the management for you and take away a lot of the control of that, there are two kinds of very important levers that you have access to and you don't actually have access to that many other levers nowadays.

The first is kind of the quality of that data in Merchant Centre or in any other e-commerce platform, but let's stick with Merchant Centre for now. And the second is the price of your product. Now, the reason that these are important is that they are used.

The first set is used basically by Google to assess relevancy. So what that means is, how likely are they to show your product to someone if they search organically? And from a paid search perspective, it's how much extra is it going to cost you to pay because you're actively punished if Google thinks you're less relevant.

So the first set of insight we have, really is around data quality. We look at the data points that we think view as relevant to relevancy and we flag places where you need to improve them. So specific examples of this that Google (and Philip!) really care about are GTINs.

So Google now actively asks for GTINs. They're global trade identification numbers. They're using them to map products behind the scenes. So when you go and look at the offers page in Google Shopping and wonder, how do they know that these suppliers are all selling the same product?

Well, if you give them the GTINs, then Google does it automatically and it becomes very easy. Why that's important because if you're not getting aggregated into that offers page and you're coming into the other kind of individual boxes, you're much less likely to be shown to a consumer who's searching for that particular product.

So that's the first set of tags, and then the second set of tags is about conversion. And we've said this kind of in numerous different ways over numerous different podcasts. But the price is not usually kind of a key reason at the kind of top of the buying journey, but it is a very important reason at the conversion part of the buying journey if someone actually buys your product and buys the product off you versus someone else.

So if you're not on top of your pricing, Google will also penalise you because they think you're less relevant, they think people are less likely to convert. So if you're wildly mispriced, say you're massively above the benchmark, you are less likely to be shown.

Our first actionable insights are about optimising that consumer journey through Google Shopping for you. So we make sure that your data is correct so that Google views you as relevant, and then we make sure that your pricing is correct so that the consumer will buy from you or be more likely to buy from you, I should say. So that's kind of the overall story or point of it.

What does this mean in Practice? It means we flag things like where you're missing key data points that Google cares about. So product name, brand, whether your GTIN is correct or not, whether you've got proper links in there, all that good stuff, whether your product is in stock, which is a key one that I think a lot of people don't realise. So, see, if you're not in stock, Google's not going to show you to people because they can't buy the product, right? They get annoyed. But when you've got 160,000 products and you're doing things by hand, it's quite easy for things to step in and out and therefore you get punished in the ecosystem for that.

And then around conversion, we've got a whole host of things. Running from the kind of whether you're too expensive, we think you're too cheap, whether there have been large price changes made by your competitors, whether the market shifted, whether we think people are using price automation. I mean, there's a whole bag of useful kind of insights that you can say, oh, okay, well, my main competitors seem to be using price automation for these 20 products. No wonder I can't keep up, right? No wonder every price move I make has been copied.

Or the other thing we see if people aren't using price automation is that the long tail tends to either creep towards being too cheap and sacrificing margin, or too expensive and sacrifice conversion. And that's both losing sales and you get penalised by Google in both terms of kind of organic and paid search. 


Philip Huthwaite

So to loop back to what we were mentioning at the beginning of the podcast, What BlackCurve is supporting you to do is effectively cut through the noise of all of the reams and reams and reams of competitor data and the reams and reams of product information that you have and each and every day or on a schedule of your choice. You can log into the platform or access the reports and it will tell you specific actions that you need to do.

So the specific action that Rob mentioned around relevancy, it's likely that you're not appearing when somebody searches for that particular product. If you want them to buy from you, you've got to appear. So the action that we might give you is to add GTIN or edit GTIN. It's very specific actions that anybody can pick, pick up and go, okay, right, GTINs, product code, right, okay, I've clearly got it wrong. I need to go and find what the GTIN is and upload it in my Google Shopping in a way.

And conversely, from a conversion perspective, is price hampering your prospects from buying your product from you at checkout? So in order to help you with that, we're cutting through all of the competitor information, cutting through all that noise, and on individual products saying this product, you need to increase the price of the product to whatever it might be, 399, 2700, or whatever it might be because of X-Y-Z. So it's very specific, discrete tactical decisions that you can make day in, day out, even when you've got thousands of products, even hundreds of products, just being able to go, okay, right, today I only need to make these ten decisions. I don't need to worry about everything else. That's really the aim of what we're doing here.

Well, what's coming in the future? What's next?


Rob Horton

So the way that this is dropping initially is that we're just going to leverage our existing reports framework, and this gives us a really good vector to get it out to people, get some feedback, get people using it, see what they like, seeing what they don't like, add some insights, remove some insights, change some insights. All that good stuff, that good product-led feedback stuff.

Well, we already have the data health one, which you can check out, which was our first foray. We've actually cleaned up some of the language and kind of brought it into the new framework a bit. And then if you're already getting your competitor report from us, you'll just get three new columns appearing that would tell you what to do.

So if you're an existing customer or on a trial or want to try us out, you don't even have to do anything complicated. You just download your normal competitor report as you would, and then it'll be in there and you can have a look.


Philip Huthwaite

And then what's coming next?


Rob Horton

Well, we then need to fold this back into the dashboard so that it's just there presented for you, kind of to go back to what you were saying, what are the top ten issues affecting search relevancy for me? Okay, I can go sort those out. What are the top ten issues or products affected by conversion? What do I need to go and sort out? And then how do I know it's worked? So that's really what's next.

It's like building that kind of feedback loop and tracking it into the platform so you can make the change and then see that the change has happened.


Philip Huthwaite

What about some of the other, I guess, specific product insights that are coming down the pipe? I mean, I'm always challenging Rob, so I hope if I say it out loud in more of a public forum rather than just our product update meetings, it might happen sooner!

It's sharing who's a price follower and who's a price leader because that's quite an interesting one to come back to something we said earlier about what competitors should I be interested in. Knowing who's changing the price and then subsequently who's following those is actually really useful, because if everybody's always following one competitor, well, then actually you only need to necessarily there's an argument to say you only actually need to track that one competitor or it might actually challenge your beliefs over.

The other one I'm going to say, just so I can get it in, is promotion recommendations. So I'm regularly asked by customers how can I use my pricing data to work out which products should be on promotion. Because marketing departments normally arbitrarily pick products. Big discount code across the board. If we can use competitor data, as well as digital marketing performance data, as well as sales data to recommend specific products that should be in a promotion, then that would be super cool. So you got to go and build it now, Rob, because I've told the world about it!


Rob Horton

Yeah, stop!


Philip Huthwaite

I have that on record. He didn't say no. So I have that on record that you're going to go and build it!

And with that, I think it's a good point to conclude. So effectively you can use actionable pricing insights to borrow the title to outsmart the competition because a lot of your competitors are likely just having a gut feeling arbitrarily maintaining specific pricing positions and not really interrogating it any more than that.

Whereas if you can have a robust framework such as BlackCurve that provides you with actionable, pricing insights that enable you to day in, and day out interrogate those decisions and push you beyond your previous gut feel to make decisions outside of your comfort zone, this is where you strive for excellence. And this is where you can really start to improve your search engine relevancy to make sure you appear more in search terms, which, if you don't appear, you're not going to get the check-out right? So nobody's going to buy your product if you don't appear.

So you've got to get those basics right all the way through to well, okay. If you appear, how do I make sure that I convert again? If they don't buy from you, there's almost no point in them seeing you, right? It's the one-two punch. You'd be surprised by the power of using actionable pricing insights in your business. It will really drive success.

So thank you very much, Rob, for joining me. As ever, we have been BlackCurve and this is Ecommerce Matters, the UK's leading e-commerce pricing podcast.

Until next time. Happy pricing!

Topics: Actionable Insights

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