Business Analytics in Retail and eCommerce

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FountainBlue’s June 3, 2011 Business Analytics Event: Business Analytics in eCommerce and Retail and featured:
Facilitator Adrian Ott, CEO, Exponential Edge Inc. and Author, The 24-Hour Customer
Panelist Darren Bruntz, Senior Director, Analytics Platform & Delivery, eBay
Panelist Tobin Gilman, Vice President, BI and EPM Product Marketing, Oracle
Panelist Raj Sen, Group Manager, Multi-Channel Analytics, Adobe

Please join us in thanking our hosts at eBay for graciously hosting us at their facilities and for their ongoing support of FountainBlue. Below are notes from the conversation.
With the explosion of online, web, social, mobile and video, the sheer volume of data over the next four years will approach the total amount ever created in the history of the planet. As our panelists agree that understanding what customers are doing and personalizing experiences based on their behavior is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, the challenge for technology companies and retailers is how to take this volume of data and target, acquire, engage and measure customers in order to provide personalized systems which would lead to better customer experiences and loyalty.

We have rapidly moved from a period of relatively little data, most of it offline, with few big tech companies specializing in analytics and business decisions based on intuition to a period where the volumes of data overwhelm even the largest tech companies, large companies partner with other large companies to cost-effective provide personalized experiences for customers, and seamless presentation of dynamically generated information online, customized to the needs of the user, based on analytics.

The sophisticated business analytics of today’s large tech companies including data management, database technology, data integration, standard BI, end-user, predictive, financial performance management, hardware and software are all leveraged to serve the individual and personalized needs of the user. But there is a challenge of creating scalable, cost-effective solutions which serve a business purpose, and isn’t too high-maintenance from a technology perspective. Each of our panelists and their companies are looking for opportunities to innovate in business analytics space overall, in the retail and other sectors so that we build trust and do the right thing for the customer, saving them time and money, while respecting their privacy.

This challenge of getting-heard-through-the-noise has existed for decades, yet it is amplified now for several reasons, including the proliferation of products and brands, the number of channels where information can be presented to customers – from web site to mobile to brick and mortar, plus the integration of all, the relative ease of reaching to customers leveraging technology like e-mail and web sites, the formidable margin pressures put on management with the commiserate pressure to ensure advertising dollars reap rewards and other factors. There may be more information and data to process, but studies find that consumers are using the same amount of time to make purchasing decisions now as they have before.
This all leads to the impatience of customers and the escalating demand for instant evaluation metrics and vetted recommendations from trusted sources. Below is advice from our panelists for better serving that customer and providing value-added, dynamically-generated, data-driven personalized solutions for those customers:
• Be a trusted brand and resource to the customer. Leverage their behavior, history, profile, and other data so that it best serves them while respecting their privacy and adding value to them.
• Leverage social media so that the wisdom of the crowd can best decide the best sellers, the best buyers and the best products.
• Be a neutral body for both sellers and buyers and be clear on policies and procedures for buying and selling.
• From the vendor’s perspective, your business analytics program goal should be more customer loyalty, increased likelihood of up-sell and increased referrals. From the customer’s perspective, the goal might be more timely, more personalized recommendations based on patterns of use, survey of needs, and available product offerings.
• Address the needs of the customer with sophisticated, integrated technologies which appear seamless to the customer.
• Understand and segment your users and note patterns so that you can better serve and even anticipate the needs of the customer.
• Rather than striving to interpret the huge volumes of generated data, seek larger patterns of behaviors and create use cases which would make recommendations on what’s important to the user, without looking at *all* the data to justify that recommendation. Extend the concept further into use case families to better understand customer segments, product feedback, buying trends, etc.
• Collaborate with key vendors to create generic application for future use, keeping solutions simple for customers, retailers and vendor alike.
• Buy or build technologies that would serve your customer, but if possible, don’t create another technology stack which needs to be upgraded and managed.
Below are some ideas and suggestions for entrepreneurs innovating in this space:
• Find the integration between mobile devices and cameras and how it can integrate with more traditional retail experience in brick and mortar stores as well as in ecommerce solutions.
• Leverage social media to more efficiently provided customized, personalized, vetted feedback to niche customers.
• Make it easy for retailers who are not necessarily technophilic to learn and adopt business analytics practices which would serve both their customers and their businesses.
• Leverage personalized online visualization so customers experience the product visually and in 3D in a way that drives customer purchasing decisions without too much extra technology overhead.
• Create a solution which would generate results faster, more accurately, more efficiently.
• Consumers are hungry for the score – how do you create a vetted, five-star instant-gradafication system cost-effectively to them?
• Go beyond tables and bar charts and produce 3D reports like waterfalls or scatter-plots so that retailers can better manage their merchandise online, on-site, in the warehouse, and elsewhere. These reports
• Create solutions which address the intersection of data on behavior, customers, transactions and products and translate it into actionable correlations.
• The pro-privacy movement led by some consumers will make it more difficult for retailers and vendors to understand behaviors of consumers. But this is also an opportunity.

The bottom line is that data is a double-edge sword: it holds the secret to better understanding and serving the customer, but the sheer volume of data makes it a challenge to integrate and protect/secure it while identifying the kernels of wisdom and information which would spell out patterns and better anticipate and deliver actionable personalized solutions for retailers, vendors and customers alike. The market will continue to evolve as retailers open up to analytics, consumers keep raising the bar on what’s immediate and what’s personalized, vendors collaborate to dynamically deliver more sophisticated, integrated technology solutions, and entrepreneurs continue to innovate.

Resources:
• Wall St. Journal May 18, 2011 Article on Check Out the Future of Shopping covers mobile shopping gadgets http://on.wsj.com/j2uV06
• Our facilitator Adrian Ott , CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. and NAWBO’s Silicon Valley’s Enterprising Woman of the Year 2011 is also the author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved,
Always-Connected Economy http://www.24hourcustomer.com The 24-Hour Customer, named a Best Business Book 2010 by Library Journal and Small Business Trends, provides a framework that helps businesses turn customer time and attention scarcity into a competitive advantage. The book demonstrates how to make your products and services more addictive through the use of key buying triggers and techniques that redirect customer attention and traction in your favor. To purchase your copy online, visit http://amzn.to/cJASOb.

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