Opinion by Anthony Capano

In a survey by The Australian in 2013, more than half of business leaders asked agreed that data streams that provide unique insights into areas such as consumer behaviour are extremely beneficial to a business. For decades, successful retailers have been using data to power day-to-day decisions on everything from stock levels and logistics, to products brought to market. So, if this isn’t a particularly new approach, why are businesses and retail leaders taking notice of data now more than ever?

In this burgeoning digital economy, the sheer amount of data available to retail businesses is on the rise. More processes are run by digital technologies that constantly monitor and collect data, feeding it all back into the business. That’s where the buzzwordy term ‘big data’ was born. In one sense, this is just an extension of the sort of information that retailers have always had access to, however the sheer amount of information now available requires specific skills and time to interpret, presenting a different challenge altogether.

This is particularly the case for retailers’ digital channel: e-commerce.  Almost everything that customers do online will be tracked in one way or another. As a retailer, how do you cope with this, and use it to your advantage, rather than be overwhelmed by it? 

A great way to look at this big data is to view it as a window into the world of your existing and potential customers. Imagine if you could see into the calendars of all your target customers, and see when they’ll begin researching items for their Christmas shopping, and when they’re actually going to start buying these items? Or if you knew that your shoppers were using social media sites such as Instagram or Pinterest to look at items for inspiration, as well as just browsing retailers’ websites? The right data sources allow this to become a reality. 

What are some examples of 'the right data'? With the right partner, retailers should be able to see when people are buying, on what device, and which publisher models are leading to online sales. So you’ll know if your customers are more likely to buy on tablet through content-rich fashion sites or if they are more driven by incentives and offers and prefer to purchase from their desktop. In real time, you can see the performance of one creative execution or promotional message over another, and optimise your program to ensure maximum effectiveness and return-on-investment. 

This ability to attribute digital marketing investment directly to sales will mean that big data is working for you, rather than becoming a distraction or an overwhelming amount of information that ultimately gets ignored. It means clarity and efficiency across an increasing proportion of your e-commerce business.

Anthony Capano is the MD of Rakuten Marketing, an affiliate marketing, display and retargeting, and data feed corporation.