Turning Commerce Data into Online Merchandising Insight with IBM’s Commerce Insights
One of the biggest pains plaguing online merchandisers today is the deluge of data from disparate sources, and how darn difficult it is to compile, interpret, and extract actionable insights that actually result in higher sales conversions.
The volume of data, the speed with which it changes, and the lack of data analysis know-how among business users means most eCommerce teams are drowning in data and not getting enough value from it.
On December 2nd, Internet Retailer hosted a webinar to discuss that challenge, and what the future holds for eCommerce professionals. (It’s incredibly exciting, so read on.)
Joining host Don Davis, Internet Retailer’s editor-in-chief, were Nikki Baird, analyst with Retail Systems Research; Anna Cole, senior manager of operations and merchandising for retailer Carhartt; and Peter Wharton, commerce solutions product marketing leader with IBM Commerce.
Baird, the expert researcher of the bunch, opened the discussion outlining four (4) trends sweeping through the eCommerce realm today:
1. Most organizations are data-rich and insight-poor. It takes so much time and mental gymnastics to assimilate the commerce data available to us, most merchandisers never get around to reaping real value from it.
2. Focus is shifting in customer data. More than understanding customer data, merchandisers are realizing they must also react quickly and make operational decisions based on evolving customer behavior.
3. New focus on non-transactional data. Non-transactional data like weather forecasts, social sentiment, price-checking services, and more serve as early warning signals that impact demand.
4. Getting the right tools into the hands of front-line users. Business users and merchandisers must be able to understand consumer preferences, identify new ideas, and innovate quickly, without having to rely on IT.
Why do these things matter?
Because eCommerce feels the pain sooner and more acutely than other areas of the business, says Baird. And yet, too many eCommerce pros are relying on experience, hunches, or intuition – not data.
With that in mind, IBM Commerce launched a pilot program earlier this year and selected a few participants to embark on a deep exploration of these problems and potential solutions. Cole was one of those participants.
“We thought having to manually compile data from various sources was a necessary evil,” shared Cole. “Then IBM said, what if we did that for you and put it all together in one place? Then we cried with happiness.”
Calling that scenario her “Nirvana,” Cole added: “My team members aren’t data scientists. I want them to be able to look at all the data in one place, make a quick connection, and be able to drag, drop, and move things around. How great would it be if as soon as you made a change you could sit back and watch its impact on the bottom line in real time? It would be fantastic.”
Building on that program, IBM developed Commerce Insights, a tool that delivers that single-source view and data interpretation. “We’re also overlaying web store data on product and category pages so you can view the data in the context of what your customers are seeing,” shared Wharton.
More than gathering data in one place, Commerce Insights also uses cognitive principles to act like a business advisor, helping the user understand, reason, and even making suggestions for the next course of action. Similarly, the tool also leverages non-transactional data, as Cole mentioned earlier (weather, social sentiment, and so on), that could impact demand and conversions.
“It sounds sci-fi, but it’s consumer-grade technology, just like typing into Google gets you answers and suggestions in one place,” said Cole. “It’s easy to get lost in the idea that it’s super high-tech but for the front-line user it looks easy, like a Google search.”
Solutions like Commerce Insights will change how groups collaborate, and retail promotions will become a recovery program for a product that’s lagging in sales, said Wharton, as opposed to the “let’s see what sticks” approach that’s so typical today.
In conclusion, Cole and Wharton predict cognitive tools that learn, adapt to you, and make connections that would otherwise require much mental heavy-lifting are coming to various areas of the business, not just merchandising. Until then, merchandisers can get a head start and stay ahead of the curve with Commerce Insights.
Per IBM’s announcement, Commerce Insights will be delivered as a software as a service (SaaS) offering “that can be used with your on-premises or on-cloud deployment of IBM WebSphere Commerce V8.0.” To learn more, contact our team here at BlueSky Technology Partners — a market leader in IBM Commerce solutions.
(Initially focused on retail, Commerce Insights will also roll out B2B solutions in the first half of 2016.)