Five Key Internet Megatrends: 3. Knowing customers

Knowing customers well

Key points:

  • Big Data could be the digital equivalent of the friendly shopkeeper who has a good idea of what you want, as soon as you enter the shop
  • But probably isn’t.

My family is quite traditional. We shop at a greengrocer for vegetables, a local butcher for meat, a local baker for bread and a local wine merchant. We use supermarkets mainly just for tinned products.

The greengrocer, butcher and wine merchant know the products that my family want to buy as well as my wife or I do.

A few years ago, Big Data was the IT industry’s silver bullet to provide online stores with the same knowledge as my local greengrocer, butcher and wine merchant.  Surely, Tesco thinks, if I buy nappies, I want to buy some baby food as well.

So Tesco began promoting baby food on all my receipts and offers in the post. However the only food we buy from Tesco is vegetarian. They can see that from all our shopping history. So there really isn’t any point promoting the latest chicken or beef baby food varieties.

And I think everyone who has bought Christmas presents for a young child through Amazon has been through the process of wondering why they receive endless children’s toys promotions afterwards.

My bank is another example. By definition my bank can see where I shop, how much my wife and I earn and how much we spend. My online banking website lists our current accounts, savings account and credit card all in one place.

I know through my work at Endava how much the bank spends on Big Data annually. So why does my bank promote the same savings account every time I log on? There are probably a gazillion more appropriate products they could be selling me than the same savings product every time. In the end I did take up the (poor) savings account just to stop the splash screen promotion.

I should note, one of my colleagues pointed out the first time I told this story “So the bank won. They promoted a product and you applied after a few placements.” He’s right of course, and I’d made it worse for all the other customers!

Big Data will help Internet websites get to a point where they mimic the traditional shopkeeper. However it’s in danger of becoming too scientific and will need to become much more customer focussed.

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