Why retailers need to forget about big data

Big data came from machine noise: a single engine on a twin engine Boeing 737, for example, creates 20 terabytes of data every hour. Multiply that by the number of flights that plane makes every year and that’s real big data. Nonetheless, ‘big data’ in more general terms is one of those buzzwords that’s been bandied about so often it’s become meaningless.

Worst of all, businesses misunderstand it, misunderstand their problems, and consequently implement the wrong solutions. But we’re hopeful that this year retailers will begin to move away from big data. And in its place? Small data, governed by the following mantras.

Don’t think big data, think best data

When customers come to us looking for solutions to their ‘big data’ problems, we typically get them to take a step back and assess the data in question. Is it valuable to your brand? Will it improve customer communications and ultimately revenue per customer? If not, don’t worry about it. As long as you’re focused on the rich data that’ll improve when and what you communicate to your customers, then you’ll be fine.

Don’t be a hoarder

There are a lot of micro level transactions, related to your brand, taking place every day. But there’s no point in keeping every social media rant for example, if you are trying to use data to inform strategic business decisions. That’s not to say that there is no value in listening to your customers and upholding good social media practices, but you’re not going to build your future product or sales plans around emotive outbursts on Twitter.

Decrease the volume, decrease the governance

If you insist on keeping all your data – regardless of where it comes from or its importance to your business – then you will in turn need to increase the level of data governance. This is not only costly, but can also affect your ability to pool the right data at the right time. Don’t be the retailer who gets lost in a data store full of things they no longer need.

Set a ‘use by’ date

Part of good data governance should be to apply health warnings and ‘use by’ information to data to ensure that it can be used effectively to make the right decision, at the right time. As consumer trends and behaviours change, it is essential to focus only on the most relevant, timely data, while any information that is no longer useful can be discarded.

When it comes down to it, best practice data governance – achieved both by cutting down on hoarding and ditching expired information – is all about the intelligent usage of the most useful data you have, rather than attempting to accommodate reams of ‘big data’.

And there you have it: more data doesn’t equal better, more profitable customer communications. There is no skill in accumulating millions of meaningless records. Naturally, there are vendors out there who’d like you to store everything forever but don’t be fooled; you’re better off shedding those extra data pounds you’ve been carrying around. Turn your retail organisation into a lean rich data machine, only focusing on the small data that’ll ensure you deliver value to your customers in an easier, faster and more effective way than any of your competitors.

By Jason Lark, managing director at Celerity

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