Manish Devgan at Hazelcast explains how businesses can avoid being overwhelmed by an excess of customer data
Global hilarity around US senator Bernie Sanders’ lurid winter wear helped pose a fundamental question to new business teams: UK firms have never had so many sources of data about customers but they are struggling to analyse it quickly enough and boost sales.
As our lives become more digitised, and smart devices and social media open up ever-simpler ways of interacting with brands, more and more data is being continuously minted and fired instantly at retailers’ IT networks and supply chains, whether as individual events or entire data streams.
Look at the data from memes. Whether the meme is generated deliberately for a social media campaign (Weetabix driving sales with its own Baked Beans meme) or arises from a moment in time seized upon by marketeers (Bernie Sanders and those garish mittens), it can rapidly expose the brands associated with it to much bigger and more diverse audiences than ever before.
And the real-time data generated by huge surges of online traffic is kick-starting new opportunities for brands to engage these potential customers – and do so instantly.
There’s an even bigger revenue opportunity too.
Bringing together these real-time “what’s happening now” insights with much deeper “context” information about consumers – held on multiple bank, credit card and retailer databases – offers brands far greater scope to engage consumers and build bigger revenue opportunities from them – and do so very quickly. But many UK companies’ data analysis set-up isn’t fast or clever enough to unify these different forms of data.
So what are new business teams planning to do to take their understanding of customers from incoming data to this new level?
Research we commissioned* found that almost nine out of ten UK retailers and financial services providers find it hard to unify both real-time data and historical data to better engage customers.
And the real shock is how unpredictable and volatile these drivers of demand are becoming.
More than half (51%) of UK companies admit that real-time events — like worldwide sharing of amusing social memes, web traffic spikes (people enjoying video of a Texan lawyer turning into a kitten on a bungled Zoom call), and daily Twitter explosions — are now an even bigger driver of demand than established retail events such as Black Friday (48%).
And alongside this greater unpredictability comes much more data to analyse.
With so many people working, shopping and playing online post-pandemic, two-thirds of UK companies saw a significant or very significant increase in data coming into their IT networks from customer applications and interactions over the last year. Majorities of UK firms also recorded similar data surges on their digital and web channels (64%), Internet of Things applications (61%) and existing business applications (60%).
This rising tide of data flowing into companies’ networks and supply chains could create a goldmine of revenue opportunities. Surprisingly perhaps, most UK companies reckon they will soon have the tools for the job of understanding and acting immediately on this mass of real-time and historical information.
Seven out of ten organisations said they could transform their ability to close sales and special offers — if they had more relevant customer information at the point when they first engage customers. And UK firms reckon that — on average — they could boost sales conversions by 41%.
So how will UK companies pull together all these different real-time and historical data to re-organise this real-time engagement and build a smarter sales effort?
Most of them plan to invest more in data platforms that filter and analyse both types of data. New tools include in-memory data grids that intelligently pool the memory of their server farms to filter data much faster — almost four out of five UK firms want to spend more on them.
Another option is data streaming platforms that process huge quantities of data in real-time at the “edge” of IT networks — on smart devices, or at shops, and warehouses — instead of sending information across networks to their data centres to make the relevant calculations. Three quarters of firms want to invest more on this approach.
These plans aren’t happening in isolation. More than 75% of UK firms also aim to spend more on improving their core processes and databases. Companies are taking a holistic approach to better understanding their customers.
Retailers and financial services providers have grasped that they can engage customers more meaningfully and boost revenues by bringing together perishable data with hard-to-reach data held in older company databases. This approach will become the industry standard in 2022.
Manish Devgan is Chief Product Officer at Hazelcast
* Survey of 629 retail and financial services organisations, including 217 in the UK, by Sapio Research, 2021.
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com