By now, every man and his dog has probably heard of big data, but there’s a fair chance that they’re confused about what exactly it is or what it does. Far from being just “data that’s large,” big data is a concept that has taken Amazon from being ‘just’ an eCommerce giant to a veritable big data company. Amazon’s recommendation machine, customer service, and inventory management practices are all powered by their use of big data; i.e. the data that they mine from 304 million customers.

The amount of data humans currently produce each day is far beyond comprehension – the number stands at an eye-watering two and a half quintillion bytes per day. We produce data when we use social media, when we use our smartphones, when we shop online, and when we send text messages, to name but a few. Research by business management platform Domo even suggests that every minute of the day, 1,736,111 Instagram users like their peers’ photos. Furthermore, a 2016 report by McKinsey highlights the fact that the volume of big data is doubling every three years, and that while data-storage capacities are increasing, costs are decreasing.

Companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and eBay are all using big data to take the world by storm, but the question remains: what is big data? What does big data mean for eCommerce?

We asked four big data experts “what is big data?”, and how big data is changing the future of eCommerce.

Four definitions of big data from the experts

Quick insights, variety of data, and real-time analysis

“Big data is today’s natural evolution of general data driven decision making that has been around for decades. What has changed can be narrowed down to three specific points:

  • Amount and variety of data – this means that today we are technically able to gather data incoming from various information systems (CRMs, ERPs, surveys, social media, etc.) in an instantaneous way.
  • Ability to generate quick insights about your customers – The proliferation of all the tooling necessary to drive insights and the ability to apply complex algorithms to said data enables powerful predictive analysis, giving companies an important competitive advantage.
  • Ability to store very granular data that allows targeting of specific individuals – Thanks to social media, the internet of things, and our traditional information systems we are able to improve products by tailoring them to individuals rather than general market segments.

Through the lens of eCommerce, big data means being able to apply real-time analysis and maximize: profile, customer retention, and cross-selling. The eCommerce domain is one of the first where big data was applied. eBay, Amazon, and Netflix have been using it to recommend new products, increase sales, conversions, and for new product launches. This is done mainly thanks to two sources of knowledge: user behavior (logging all of the activities from browsing through to purchasing) and user profiles (what are your customers’ centers of interest, demographics etc).”

Amine Mansour, Manager of the Big Data and Data Science service line for Itecor

Your customer data complements your marketing data

“For eCommerce businesses, it [big data] means a wide variety of data. For starters, you’ll have all of your customer data on your eCommerce platform – what they ordered, how much they spent, who abandoned their shopping carts and so on. You’ll also have data about your inventory, which products are flying off the virtual shelves, and which aren’t.

This data is then complemented by information from your marketing and sales channels. One example of a marketing tool complementing your customer data is Facebook’s audience network. Touted as one of the most powerful targeting platforms out there, you can find out exactly who your customers are from age, gender, and location, right down to their interests and relationships.

So, what does this mean for eCommerce? Well, it means that you can start making much stronger decisions for your business that are backed up by data, enabling you to grow faster. It also means you have a lot of scattered data, which can take more time to analyze. That’s why there have been an influx of tools arriving that concentrate on consolidating all this data into one view. How they approach it is vastly different: some simply present the data in one dashboard, saving time and making it easier to make comparisons, whereas others identify the customers and track their journey from awareness to purchase.

Neatly.io is a data reporting platform that helps small businesses make sense of their big data. Big data isn’t as confusing as you might think, in fact, it’s exactly what it says it is: big sets of data that your business has collected over time.”

Sarah Hewitson, Co-Founder of Neatly.io

Big data helps to personalize customer experiences and optimize conversions

“Big data isn’t just large databases full of email address and contact information anymore. Big data now contributes to a business more than ever, mostly due to the fact that it gives companies a massive advantage in terms of personalization.

The ability to know what every customer’s’ habits are, along with their likes and dislikes, allows us to tailor their web experience around them, making it truly bespoke. Big data is vital for eCommerce as personalized journeys convert at a much higher rate than “one size fits all”.

Delighting the user with offers tailored to them increases brand loyalty. Software driving big data such as a PPC management tool called Forecaster allows bids on adverts to be changed automatically in a very precise manner. For example, if the weather is hot outside, paddling pools and BBQs will automatically receive an increase in bid amount. It’s big data like this that is driving the future in eCommerce and making it a lot more versatile.

From a user experience point of view, big data allows us to craft even more specific user personas, moving from normal data points to a lot more granularity allows us to really dive into the mindset of our main user type, so we can truly optimize the journey based on their requirements and expectations.”

Oliver Gunn, Senior eCommerce Executive for Maxwell-Scott

eCommerce will become dominated by Customer Lifetime Value

“The world of big data within eCommerce is extremely complex and it’s only getting more & more complicated as we see greater limitations enforced within the walled garden that exists between Google & Facebook with regards to cross-platform tracking. Where, previously, a data-savvy marketer was tasked with day-to-day analysis of Google Analytics, we’re seeing the emergence of data scientists joining marketing teams and the use of complex data modeling that, previously was reserved for the financial or insurance industries expanding to cover the scope of modern digital marketing.

For eCommerce, big data presents a world of opportunity. One use of big data within the eCommerce world is dominated by artificial intelligence, where brands like BounceX leverage data to inform personalized onsite experiences to increase a user’s propensity to convert. We are moving well beyond the world of A/B testing at this point, to the world of true one-to-one marketing with the customer.

It’s likely that we’re moving towards a future dominated by focusing on Customer Lifetime Value and using data to inform personalized marketing strategies. For replenishment brands for example, big data represents a big opportunity when it comes to growing brand loyalty and realizing when a consumer will likely need to re-purchase products and dynamically showing these products when a user is on site within a suitable time range.

It also allows for brands to become smarter about their acquisition methodology and truly evaluate platforms for their ability to generate good customers, rather than ones that may have a high propensity to convert, but ultimately provide the brand with a discount shopper that will have a lower profitability.”

Simon Poulton, Director of Digital Intelligence for Wpromote

What else does big data mean for the future of eCommerce?

Smaller eCommerce companies may not be able to fully ride the big data train just yet, but they can use data analytics software and business intelligence tools to make full use of their customer data.

Do you have any insight into the potential of big data in the eCommerce industry? Let me know in the comments, or email me at rhian.davies@getapp.com.