Big Data Goes Small (Business)

1Norm Merritt ShopKeepCorporate behemoths are no strangers to big data. Big box retailers like Walmart have been leaning on detailed analytics for some time now, using insights to inform business strategy and enhance their competitive advantage. Take Target for example — linger too long in their shoe department and you may receive a coupon for those running shoes you checked out online, but never bought.

These capabilities have largely remained the privilege of retail giants, but thanks to advancing technology — such as smart point-of-sale systems — small businesses are getting a piece of the big data pie, giving them the tools needed to take back Main Street. For the first time, independent merchants have access to previously uncaptured and inaccessible data — a capability that will forever change consumer-merchant relationships. It’s a real-life David and Goliath story, small merchant versus corporation, with big data as the proverbial slingshot. How small businesses apply these analytics, however, will determine the outcome of this unprecedented opportunity.

Define Data

Merchants are already familiar with structured data, which can include a shopper’s name and address, but unstructured data has historically posed more of a challenge. As its name suggests, unstructured data varies in form — it could be a paragraph of customer feedback on a review site, comments on social media, the sky’s the limit.


In the past, businesses both big and small were unable to take advantage of these data. Now, with the help of noSQL data structures made available to small businesses, they’re able to do things they’ve never done before, like capture detailed insights such as what product was sold, when it was sold, who sold it, who purchased it and so forth, adding valuable color to each transaction.

Big companies are already benefitting from these opportunities but for small businesses to follow suit, they’ll need a technology partner that can provide powerful analytics, allowing them to streamline operations and enhance the customer experience.

Play To Your Strengths

Knowledge is power and big data provides a lot of it! Equipped with these findings, merchants can play their strengths and make meaningful changes within their businesses — and when it comes to implementation, they have key competitive advantages retail giants don’t.

Independent merchants are truly invested in their shops and have a diversity of product that doesn’t fit into cookie-cutter retailers. Work is a passion of small business owners, their shops have a unique ambiance and staff often recognize customers by name, face and favorite products.

The chain of command is much smaller on Main Street; merchants don’t have to wait for layers of approval to make changes. Rather, they have the freedom to innovate and test new strategies at a much faster pace. This is a powerful asset for any business, heightened by impactful analytics — staff can now pull up a customer’s purchase history to recommend new items and offer complimentary discounts.

Merchants can also enhance internal operations by looking at the numbers. Back-end data can help identify which employees are the most productive while hourly sales reports call out peak hours that could benefit from extra employees or slower shifts in need of a flash sale. With these resources, merchants can fine tune all aspects of their business, ensuring they’re running at maximum profitability.

Choose the Right Partner

Data serves little purpose if it’s not properly analyzed — to best optimize findings, merchants must team with technology providers that offer features aligned with their specific needs. For example, when considering a POS system, are you able to integrate email marketing or track inventory? Cloud based systems in particular offer significant advantages over legacy systems — these platforms update analytics in real time and provide shop owners with an extra level of security.

Merchants should also research whether potential partners are future-proofed against rapidly evolving technology. Forward-thinking companies will offer regular, seamless software updates and expand their product offerings every few months.

Taking all these factors into consideration, merchants should be able to identify a system that really caters to their business. The resulting insights can be vital in helping small businesses run smarter businesses, alerting them to times when they may be losing money and opportunities for them to surpass these obstacles.

As new technology emerges, independent merchants now have far greater access to insights on both their business and consumer behavior, and the opportunity to respond in actionable ways. Ultimately merchants can leverage these insights to foster even more meaningful consumer relationships. By ensuring they have the right technology partners and tools in place, business owners can process data more efficiently than ever and truly start leveling the playing field between David and Goliath.


Norm Merritt is the President and CEO of ShopKeep. A global chief executive with a track record of success, Merritt knows how to grow and scale companies within high growth and rapid-change environments. As President and CEO of ShopKeep, a cloud-based point of sale command and control system for small businesses, he is the architect of the strategy to dramatically grow and scale the business, which launched in 2008.


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