E-tailers still struggling to rise to the challenge of big data, new research shows

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data imageE-tailers need to get to grips with the growing amounts of information they own, according to a survey by search specialist FACT-Finder and data expert Omikron Data Quality.

Big data is a business phenomenon that has been a hot topic in IT circles for some time, yet recent research from FACT-Finder and Omikron Data Quality suggests many companies don’t know what it means or how to deal with it. 

The definition of big data is simplicity itself – it refers to the growing mountain of information that companies of all types (and in particular e-retailers) are accumulating. This mainly covers customer and product-related information, and stems from the increasing use of digital technology in the enquiry and buying process, which enables such interactions to be captured like never before. 

With the right approach, this information can be turned into valuable business intelligence with the power to guide a company’s strategy and improve its operations, claims Omikron. As such, it can hold the key to businesses not only surviving, but flourishing in the increasingly competitive commercial environment in which we all live.  

In practice, however, companies are failing to get their heads around the concept and how they can use it to their advantage. According to Omikron Data Quality’s recent study, companies mostly view big data as a difficult challenge. And it’s a challenge that’s only going to get bigger, as the survey reveals one in four companies increases their business data by 50% or more every year. 

Although an increase of information volume fundamentally increases the opportunities for new data analyses, most companies still view the situation with great skepticism, said Omikron. Only 20% consider the increased volume primarily as a positive new development, whereas a clear majority of 57% see it as a problem. Indicating the scale of the lack of understanding, some 54% of those questioned couldn’t identify any uses for big data at all, while almost a third (29%) admitted to not having dealt with the subject.

What was more encouraging, however, was the high proportion of respondents who agreed about the importance of data quality – 39% said without improved quality, any steps for integrating big data are doomed to fail from the start.

FACT-Finder’s head of UK business development, Jonathan Ross, said: “The issues for e-tailers are three-fold – size, quality and understanding. But rather than burying their heads in the sand, businesses should be tackling the opportunity (it shouldn’t be seen as a problem) head on. That’s because the intelligence gained from such data when analysed effectively can provide key insight into customer behaviour that can help companies predict the future with confidence, while gaining a deeper understanding of the marketplace. Furthermore, those businesses that mine their big data now will steal a march over their rivals.

Getting to grips with your big data will require some investment, but not as much as this has been in the past (actually all the manpower which has been invested in the past to get accurate information is also pure money). More and more solutions specialise on creating a coherent view on the business, its suppliers, its products, its customers etc. The effort will be far outweighed by the rewards of exploiting a company resource that is only going to grow. And the value we’re talking about is not just for the business, but for the customer as well, because there can be more accurate and relevant information and products put in front of the customers – which is key to generating satisfaction and loyalty, one of the most important weapons businesses can wield.

“Organising big data is always going to be where the work is involved – but online retailers shirk the responsibility at their peril. So if your company is sat on a goldmine of accumulating business information, don’t wait for the gold rush. Mine it now and then sit back and watch the business benefits roll in.”