If 2017 is any indication for the future of e-Commerce, chances are online shopping is not slowing down anytime soon. For example, according to a recent U.S. Department of Commerce Study, more than 12% of all retail spending in 2017 occurred online, with over $105 billion in sales during Q2 2017 alone. This change in pace speaks to the fact that shoppers are increasingly comfortable using the Internet for even more of their shopping needs. And while these numbers are incredibly excitingfor e-Commerce and omnichannel retailers, having even a small disconnect within their online data structure can mean potential havoc.
Therefore, creating a data-dominant retail organization that actively analyzes and brings together product and behavioral data and ensures overall data protection is a major component of ensuring success in today’s e-Commerce-led environment.
To do so, retailers need to remember three key components when putting together their data strategy:
To overcome this, cleansing and expanding product information to be more user friendly will increase revenue, as customers can more easily find what they need and be satisfied with their purchase. This approach moves beyond a literal interpretation and instead evaluates everything that surrounds it, such as brand, product type and color. This means that as retailers create new content on their site, they can create context by analyzing the meaning of accompanying words within the search, recognizing their significance and their synonyms, and ensuring that their products are marked to match.
Additionally, implementing new technology, including artificial intelligence, to drive the search experience can help retailers reach customers in new ways. For example, one major retailer is piloting lens technology in which shoppers can point and shoot with their camera and immediately search for products of interest. This capability allows users to access items they don’t necessarily have the specific words to describe. It also gives shoppers a means of discovering new brands and sites they may otherwise not have known to seek out.
Behavioral data is the key to personalized experiences: With all the variety of online retailers, each offering new deals or attractive web sites, shoppers rarely take a linear approach to making their purchase (logon, select, buy, ship). While the chaotic nature of buyers may be overwhelming when selecting the most pertinent data points about them, there is still so much we can learn from their journey to checkout. Shoppers leave breadcrumbs all along the way to help us understand more about what got them off track, what they enjoyed engaging with to bring them back to the site, and ultimately what led to their decision to buy or not.
The seemingly sporadic nature of the online shopper’s behavior must be analyzed in detail to glean more information on how well a site is working to support the buyer’s intentions. In order to do this, retailers need to engage with customers during all stages of interaction throughout all channels of the shopper journey and ensure that those interactions are relevant. Mastering these multiple entry points of data ensures that retailers truly understand the consumer they are targeting.
Retailers also need to have a consistent understanding of their targeted customer personas based on psychographic profiles. These profiles study activities, interests and opinions tobetter understand customers’ wants and needs. Most businesses are extremely familiar with the profiles of the Millennial and Digital Native shopper and feel their already impressive impact on the e-Commerce world. By 2025, they are expected to dominate the online retail sphere and will completely revolutionize expectations for online experiences. The market now demands that we learn their behaviors — and quickly — in order to meet their needs.
Retailers should work to support personalization across channels while integrating consistent customer profiles. Creating consistent and seamless customer experiences, such as supplying a unified customer account, order preferences and histories across touch points is critical for retailers to be competitive as e-Commerce continues to expand and customers have even more choice in where they spend their money.
Data protection is king: Any discussion about data must also include a thorough investigation on how to best protect it. The threat of cyberattacks and breaches is very real. In recent years, we have seen that even giant powerhouses can be victims of hacking. Companies are frequently vulnerable to attacks through weaknesses in their supporting vendor’s security systems. This infiltration can result in millions of credit card and other identity information sold to the black market. In fact, 63% of data breaches in recent years have occurred through these third-party vendors. Customers have every right to be wary of providing more and more personal data, and retailers need to be cognizant of these fears.
Developing a systematic approach to security assessments can contribute to any company’s bottom line. Organizations should require each service partner to provide an evaluation of the security controls they have in place. There are currently varying types of these assessments available, butthe most comprehensive reports are produced by The American Institute of CPAs Service Organization.
While e-Commerce is proving to be a dominant channel for retailers, failing to create an organization that is data-dominant and accurately addresses product data, behavioral data and data security will lead to holes in retailers’ overall e-Commerce strategy. However, leading with a data-dominant approach will help retailers create an advanced and customer-centric e-Commerce operation.
Roland Gossage is the CEO of GroupBy, a leading provider of powerful e-Commerce search and merchandising solutions to top retailers to increase site relevancy and revenue. Gossage is responsible for the overall vision, strategy, operations and development of GroupBy. He is a seasoned professional with over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, services, operations and development in the enterprise software industry. Prior to GroupBy, Gossage served as vice president at Endeca as well as successful tenures at Cognos, Hummingbird Communications and Pure Data. Prior to beginning his career in software, he was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces serving in the Armored Core for six years.