Data is easily one of the world’s most valuable resources and represents an opportunity to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots. If accessible, data can help online and offline merchants of all sizes build bigger and bigger businesses — even in the age of Amazon.
At the same time, a lack of access to quality data could put scores of merchants out of business in the years to come. Google, Facebook and Amazon have been incredibly adept at getting people to share data, and now those three digital giants — with billions of users — own a disproportionate amount of consumer data. Data is increasingly going to power retail experiences going forward, offering digital and in-store customers new levels of personalization. It’s important for the industry that data is democratized, with many major data players rather than just a few. Otherwise, we risk finding ourselves in a dystopian future where a few players control commerce, putting too many merchants at a constant disadvantage.
Privacy efforts like GDPR can have an immediate benefit to consumers. However, long term, such legislation makes the big players stronger, which limits competition with data locked in walled gardens. We need independent, neutral, ethical developers to continue to work to make data accessible to everyone in a responsible, consumer-friendly way.
It’s important to view this potential crisis as an opportunity. Solving the access problem to high-quality data is the single most significant opening to help online and offline merchants and all other businesses in the future. With that in mind, the following two areas of retail offer recent examples of data innovation that inspire.
Driving Mobile Commerce in New Ways
The industry is going through a shift of massive proportions. Sears closed 103 stores several months ago; meanwhile, malls have been closing for years. Amazon, which doesn’t need its e-commerce realm to be profitable thanks to all of its other business interests, continues to offer consumers low prices and is now a $1 trillion company.
Location-minded innovation should give all players a ray of hope. For example, REI's #OptOutside campaign combined mobile ads and digital out-of-home with location data in Washington D.C., Denver and San Francisco to drive over 3.5 times more store visits and countless more online shoppers. Furthermore, Renault saw a 15 percent increase in dealership visits in Colombia with location-powered mobile ads. HotelTonight uses data to make well-timed, location-based offers, zeroing in on in-stadium sports or music fans who book rooms with the brand’s e-commerce app when they need a place to stay due to weather conditions.
Indeed, knowing your customers — what they want to do and the places they visit — drives cross-channel innovation. Whether it’s website visits, footfall or branding, we’ll see marketing intelligence play an increasing role for retailers in the coming years … if they want to compete with Amazon, that is.
Fulfilling E-Commerce Delivery’s Potential
Sixty-two percent of retailers launched direct-to-consumer web businesses in the last 10 years to augment offline sales. Order fulfillment is a huge part of e-commerce, and high-quality data can give greater visibility into the expected delivery of packages and other assets with real-time intelligence. Through delivery workers’ device data and connected trucks, it will become commonplace for carriers to better anticipate potential disruptions in the distribution lifecycle.
UPS uses multiple datasets, including location, to optimize delivery routes. With its Orion software, Big Brown plans to eventually send real-time navigation advice to drivers from a central command center. UPS knows it cannot rest on its laurels when it comes to customer experience, especially if crowdsourced delivery goes from eyebrow-raising trend to a normal way of e-commerce order fulfillment.
No matter what, merchants will be able to keep their customers more informed about package delivery, which is a significant pain point for online shoppers. Because this data is accessible and utilized, it will, ultimately, create a happier customer base for retailers and make them more competitive. Not to mention that I believe location data can reduce the collective carbon footprint by making logistics more efficient. In a way, data can actually replace oil as logistics main fuel.
Benefitting in Many Ways
From REI and HotelTonight to UPS, these use cases underscore why the free flow of high-quality data is integral to online and offline merchants’ bottom lines in the years to come. And while the future is uncertain, such examples make me optimistic about the marketplace’s ability to distribute data and, therefore, innovate for the benefit of all.
That said, data democratization needs to be supported with how we spend money as businesses and consumers as well as with every other form of influence we can bring. Otherwise, Google, Facebook and Amazon will become too powerful for the collective good.
As Chief Marketing Officer, Brian is focused on driving all aspects of marketing for Factual, including strategy, brand, communications, product marketing and growth. A senior marketing and product veteran, he brings more than 20 years of marketing experience in building and managing results-oriented teams for fast-growing technology companies. Brian received his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Penn State University and currently serves as a mentor for Techstars, helping emerging technology startups with marketing and strategy initiatives.