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Raise business questions before launching data science, says Arcadia CDO

Retailers are rushing to catch up with data science and in doing so are not shaping their projects around the questions they need to ask of their data sets.  

“Understanding how you use data is more important than the data you capture itself,” said Andy Harding, chief digital officer at Arcadia.

The former House of Fraser executive said understanding the Arcadia customer is “probably one of our biggest priorities”.

He said retail has been playing catch up in terms of data, which has created an arms race in the industry.

“They are creating data science functions like it’s a fashion,” he said at RW Live in London this week, describing how there is a rush to create data science functions after seeing the success from the likes of Asos.

“If you’re a data scientist, pat yourself on the back on making a great career decision,” said Harding, who has been leading Arcadia’s digital endeavours for the last three months. 

But the problem about rushing into creating data science functions is that businesses are looking for answers second, which he said is the wrong way around.

“Data is not a means to an end, you have to have business problems to create the science.”

Hardings comments were made on the same day it was widely reported that 67 stores, including brand leaders Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, are earmarked for closure as part of the restructure of Arcadia. It has been a rocky few months for the group, with chairman Philip Green being accused of sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace. He was granted an injunction against The Telegraph, but was later named in the House of Lords under parliamentary privilege. 

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