Santa’s Chief Data Scientist Speaks Out

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With a global population exceeding 7 billion, Santa’s job is harder than ever. Fortunately, he has a few new toys of his own. We were delighted to learn that Santa’s Chief Data Scientist recently signed up for RJMetrics. We asked her if she’d mind us sharing some of the North Pole’s more interesting insights.

So what’s on Santa’s dashboard? Here’s the inside look at the data he tracks.

Tracking “Naughty vs. Nice” with Customer Segments and Drill-Downs

Santa has an enormous database of all naughty and nice actions by everyone under the age of 18. He can segment these populations by “net niceness” to determine how many children get toys and how many get coal. He can then filter these populations and monitor the trends over time.

For example, here’s the naughty and nice list for America, by year:

While the population is steadily growing, the proportion of children who are naughty vs nice in a given year is largely steady (with some volatility). You’ll notice that Elvis’ first hit (1956), the arrival of The Beatles in America (1964), and the launch of MTV (1981) are events that increased the number of children on the naughty list. Inspiring or tragic events increase the number of children on the nice list. For example, the assassination of JFK (1963) and man landing on the moon (1969) had more of an impact on the nice list than the launch of the iPad (2010).

Santa segments naughty and nice trends by things other than geographic region (clearly there are some gems hidden in that data!). He preferred we not share this, however, because he didn’t think this would be “in the spirit of Christmas.”

Is Coal Effective? Tracking Naughtiness Recidivism with A/B Testing

Naughty children get coal in their stocking. This is designed to be a deterrent to naughty behavior. But does it really work? Last year, Santa conducted an A/B test: from a universe of 20,000 randomly-selected first-time naughty children, he gave half of them coal in their stocking and the rest got presents as though they had not been naughty at all. He then tracked the behavior of those two groups over the next 12 months.

naughtiness-recidivism

With over 95% statistical confidence, Santa proved that naughty children who receive coal in their stocking are less likely to be naughty in the following year than children who do not.

Belief in Santa Cohort Analysis

If no children believe in Santa, Christmas magic dies. Knowing what percent of children believe is not enough information for Santa. He needs to know the year a child was born and how old that child was when they stopped believing. A cohort analysis allows Santa to study the drop off in belief by grouping children together by the year they were born. When Santa compares how different generations of children believe at identical ages, he develops an understanding of how innocent or cynical different generations are.

Generally, belief drops off as children grow up. It seems as though dramatic drops in belief in Santa directly correlate to world events. Looking at the sharp drop for the cohort of 1996, we see it directly coincides with the tragic events of 9/11. The opposite is also true. That same cohort had an increase in belief at the age of 7. A closer look at the data leads us to the theory that the movie Elf, from 2003, improved Christmas Spirit that year.

Managing Workshop Operations with Merchandising Analysis

To make sure every toy is ready in time, Santa’s workshop needs to be the most efficient manufacturing operation in the world. As Christmas lists come in, Santa can monitor his merchandise dashboard and identify trends in toy requests close to real time.

Consumer electronics continue to dominate requests, so Santa is staffing up his semiconductor division.

This is just a peek at the data that drives Santa’s streamlined operations. Santa’s data science department is also actively investigating:

  • Elves collaborating on toy production and customer support requests
  • Santa tracking his calorie intake from all the milk and cookies
  • Rudolph uses it for sleigh performance and route efficiency

What else do you think Santa should be tracking at his workshop?

  • Jasmine_P

    I love that as soon as hip gyrating hit pop culture, the naughty ratio skyrocketed!