Piers Dillon-Scott


The future of eCommerce will be created by companies that put people at the centre of their data

Big data powers modern ecommerce, and people power big data. Yet customers' needs are often overlooked by big data.

Big data has changed how companies do business, but often the numbers hide valuable human insights. Piers Scott and Laurence Veale, with Tom Cunningham examine how customer behaviour is frequently overlooked, but holds the key to business innovation.

Ogilvy was a man who understood the importance of research and data. “People,” he wrote, “who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” Ogilvy lived at a time when data was more difficult and more costly. But these are not Ogilvy’s times – we are flooded with data; what we lack is a way of understanding signal from noise.

Design Thinking gives us a framework for clearly seeing and processing this signal, and it does this by focusing on the singular thing that businesses have in common – people. Using Design Thinking, companies can analyse their data in two significant ways,

  1. Companies are required to view their business from the inside out – from their customers’ point-of-view, and,
  2. It mitigates risk by designing and testing potential futures through prototyping

Frequently, companies use their data to answer one simple question; ‘What happened, and how often?’ But this fails to answer another simple question: ‘Why’. Consequently this analysis won’t tell them why customers failed to adopt their service, or why their existing customers have stopped using it. The only people who know the answer to this question are their customers.

In depth qualitative research into their customers’ behaviour and expectations will help them find unmet needs. And it’s in these unmet needs where we find opportunities for innovation.

The UK, as a Frenchman once said, is a nation of shopkeepers. The grocery business may be the most traditional of industries but it’s ripe for disruption. And that’s no surprise, this is an industry that’s closer to its customers than most.

Most recently, supermarkets in the UK have moved to same day delivery, not just to compete with Amazon, but because their data told them that customers’ behaviour was changing. Customers were moving away from larger in-store shops towards more frequent smaller shops.

Image of eCommerce notification : Your delivery driver is 8mins away
Image of eCommerce notification : Your delivery driver is 8mins away

Over the past two years we’ve seen that supermarket customers are increasingly looking past price, and are placing more value on convenience. Convenience for these customers means a better quality service for less effort. And for grocery shops this could look like a subscription-based service. If supermarkets know from their quantitative data that their customers buy the same items every week, why don’t they automatically deliver these to the customer without the customer having to visit the website and check out every time? The supermarket could send the customer a simple notification asking them if they want their weekly delivery, or additions; and then allow the customer to track their delivery from store to door in real-time.

I really struggle to find the time to do my shopping – but I just want my groceries delivered Supermarket shopper

By placing customers at the centre of their data collection and analysis companies can gain a more rounded picture of their current business, and their potential future by identifying unmet needs.

Big data may be transforming how companies understand and conduct their business, but it is incomplete without a solid understanding of customer behaviour. Ogilvy would be astounded by the transformative effect it has had on business. But one wonders how he would feel about the distancing effect of that data has had on B2C and even B2B relationships.

Big data that fails to include, or ignores, human data creates a gap of understanding between companies and their customers. And this gap is important – within this gap lies businesses’ ability to meet emerging customer needs. It’s within this gap that start-ups find their foothold and grow to become significant competitors.

Using Design Thinking to understand and action big data can help businesses move forward with more focus and more confidence. And, most importantly, all businesses have access to this invaluable data resource – their customers.

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