One of the biggest misconceptions about big data is that it’s only relevant for large businesses. In reality, big data services are often just as useful for local merchants on Main Street as they are for global retail chains and CPG brands. With 90% of transactions still happening in the physical world, small business owners are uniquely positioned to benefit from the knowledge gained by collecting information about their customers’ spending habits and behavioral trends.
Here are seven strategies for local merchants looking to take better advantage of big data services.
1. Lean on others. “My experience with many small businesses is that the extent of their ‘big data’ is an Excel list of customer addresses. Rather than setting out on a big data adventure, they should lean on the big data of others. There are some phenomenal sources of data in the marketplace. Tapping into this deep well of data transforms a simple little spreadsheet into rich insight about customers. If we know where a person lives, we know a lot about them. The tools and data that companies like Esri provide make this kind of data enrichment accessible to the smallest of businesses.” (Matt Felton, Datastory)
2. Push beyond transactions. “With the world of big data we’re moving from analyzing transactions to understanding interactions. This is particularly important to SMBs, which often differentiate from larger retailers by creating more intimate, more personalized experiences for their customers. With the launch of Euclid Express, a small business now has access to the same essential analytics that larger retailers have. Using Euclid Express, SMBs have access to a rich set of location analytics — including tools that help them understand the offline impact of marketing campaigns, assess the effectiveness of window displays, and inform decisions around staffing, store hours, and store layout.” (Adam Wilson, Euclid)
3. Look for ways to make vast data manageable. “Vast data can become small—and therefore relevant and manageable—because you are applying it in context and correlating across content layers and themes. For SMEs, the experience of finding and discovering this data is too often designed for a different audience. But more companies are thinking small with big data. They are creating web service, adaptive search, discovery tools, and intuitive exploration interfaces that are increasingly designed for a broader audience, at a cheaper price point, and applicable for more business scenarios. That lets SMEs combine and overlay data and test their hunches.” (Simon Thompson, Esri)
4. Pick solutions that offer complete access to data. “The big data ‘wave’ drives a lot of new solutions that can be very affordable for SMBs. Try to find solutions that utilize big data applications to bring a data-driven approach to your business. For example, MailChimp, the email provider, provides an affordable email solution for small businesses, but uses big data applications to analyze your email data and provide insight and help for users based on their performance. Make sure you pick solutions that give you access to the data and don’t just present it online.” (Uri Bar-Joseph, Simply Measured)
5. Leverage the cloud. “If you are running your business in isolation, it will be virtually impossible to leverage best practices in a highly automated and real-time manner. For example, if you are trying to drive a near real-time marketing campaign across multiple geographies, having your transactional applications and analytics tools in the cloud are table stakes. This is not a daunting task anymore, as many partners are available to help.” (Chetan Ghai, ShopperTrak)
6. Put it in context. “There’s plenty of patterns to be discovered in big data alone, but you miss the really good ones if you analyze this data out of context. If you’re simply looking at the patterns in the data you collect, you’re limited to discoveries about the things ‘you know you don’t know.’ But if you create ‘a-where-ness,’ pun intended, to this data, you’ll discover the things you didn’t know you didn’t know. This begins to occur when you layer your customer data with market information—demographics, lifestyles, workforce—and hyperlocal data, things like tax incentives zones, development patterns, and other government policy. This mashing up of data opens up new insight and a lot moments that enlighten your strategy.” (Matt Felton, Datastory)
7. Use data to fill the blind spots. “They data business owners collect fills in blind spots and helps them answer pressing questions that before were impossible to answer, like—how many people pass by the front of my store, but don’t come in? Or, how many people come in, but leave within 5 minutes? Regardless of the size of the business, it’s clear the more you measure the more you can optimize. There is no need to hire expensive data scientists, or to build your own data warehouse. At Euclid, we package these insights in an easy to use dashboard that small businesses can use right away.” (Adam Wilson, Euclid)
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.
Find out more about how big data can be used in local context at Street Fight’s Local Data Summit, taking place on February 25th, in Denver. Learn from and network with some of the top local data experts in the country. Tickets just $399 until January 23rd. Buy now!