Data management: Keeping shopper’s data in the bag

By Davide Villa, Director of Business Development EMEAI, Western Digital.

The pandemic has made ecommerce a key source of transactions across the entire retail sector. Even after the crisis, online shopping is likely to outstrip brick-and-mortars, making data management essential for the sector.

While online shopping represents an immediate opportunity to drive digital efficiencies, it also highlights the importance of investing in a solid, scalable digital infrastructure. And, since data has become an essential component of ecommerce, managing and storing it has become increasingly difficult. Multi-language, omnichannel, and multi-store setups, as well as integrated online and offline trading systems, have extremely complex information management and storage requirements. According to the Edge by Ascential Future Retail Disruption 2021-2022 research, 32% of UK purchases were made online in 2021. This is up from 29% the previous year. It is predicted that UK shoppers will continue to migrate online, with 38% of UK retail purchases occurring online by 2026. This increase in transactions also accounts for an increase in the amount of data being generated. As a result of this market transition during the last two years, the demand for more customised services from both large and small firms has surged.

Leveraging data to connect with customers

User data has become the gold standard for driving today's online business. All ecommerce strategies need to be built around data that is first collected and then analysed. Pre-pandemic, face-to-face, and live consumer interactions were a major part of a brand's retail strategy. However, that scenario has changed. Retailers must now closely monitor and maintain all forms of customer data shared online during sales and registration to track trends and buying behaviours to provide a personalized experience and to help sell to them in the future. Retail sales in stores and online were up 24% in the first two weeks of February compared to the same period in 2020, according to data from brands like Perfume Shop. During the 2021 Christmas period alone, the retailer grew 81% and shipped more than 45,000 orders in the two months leading up to Christmas. With retail giants such as Amazon and Best Buy offering a plethora of deals, brands need to ensure they have the solutions in place to store and leverage data to be able to offer the best possible service to customers.

What data is important?

Databases are the most integral component of a retailer’s infrastructure. Not only do they provide data structure, but they store product information, customer data, and transactional information from both the retailer’s point of view and the customer’s.

Billing records are the most obvious source of data in the retail industry. Retailers have years of purchasing documents and customer behaviour models to draw from, but the number of new electronic files is constantly increasing. Data about what customers buy, how much time they spend browsing products, how much they spend per transaction, how frequently they visit ecommerce

sites, how they arrived to the site, how often they abandon their cart, and a plethora of other behavioural and preference data are all critical to creating a successful online retail experience.

One benefit of having this data is that it allows businesses to give shoppers a more personalised experience by understanding their likes and dislikes. In addition, brands can leverage customer data to learn from past mistakes and make improvements for the future. If you don’t store the data securely in the first place, you won’t be able to analyse it and learn from it later.

The most significant impact of the pandemic on data storage and management has been the rapid shift to cloud. Companies are adopting cloud solutions en masse as their digital businesses expands and remote and at the edge data management and storage solutions become more important. This shift to the cloud often makes sense for companies that don’t want to continuously expand the physical footprint of all this new incoming data, but it often requires keeping a tight rein on data management.

How data management helps

Data management is critical to the success of any ecommerce site. Businesses cannot afford to let storage be a bottleneck in the face of ever-increasing real-time data management and analysis requirements. Traditional systems today require support to handle the demands of modern workloads and attempting to work around storage constraints can result in increased complexity, higher administrative costs, and downtime.

The proper IT infrastructure is essential not only for supporting one’s online marketplace but also for providing the experience that customers expect. Improved data management and storage can assist retailers in reaping greater benefits from their operations.

Importance of data protection

Retailers need to be aware that the more data and sources they collect, the more vulnerabilities this brings. As systems grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of security and protection, especially when you have personal and financial data to store. However, a variety of factors, including a changing threat landscape, a lack of appropriate data security tools, and insecure internal storage and sharing practices, are escalating the risk. Combined, these challenges have created a safety pinch point for data security decision makers and retailers alike. Across the board, retailers believe that protection of data could be improved – particularly when looking at how their organisations store and transmit sensitive data. According to a recent study from Western Digital, 68% of surveyed data managers believe employee behaviour is a bigger threat to their highly sensitive data than external hackers, and one in four data security incidents is estimated to have originated with employees. These managers say that they have seen security threats increase in the last year and 22% of data users are also aware of the fact that they have put highly sensitive data at risk in the same period.

While the advantages of data collection and aggregation are obvious, there are a few considerations that the industry must keep in mind. Employees and employers must look for more secure ways to store and share sensitive data as technology advances and the way people work changes.

The proper infrastructure, which is integrated with encryption platforms, as well as employee education on the threats to which their organisation may be exposed, will help to improve the threat landscape and reduce risk.

What’s next?

As every company in the world shifts to become a "data company," the vulnerability of data becomes clear. Data is both an asset for growth and a resource to be safeguarded. Retailers and other industries alike must consider and plan how they want to maintain and store this. When wielded correctly or incorrectly, data has the potential to alter people’s future lives and businesses, not to mention the importance of security and trust when it comes to how and where data is stored. Organisations of all sizes must remember that trust and security are inextricably linked. And the secure data storage requirements for retailers must reflect that.

The pandemic has shaken up the retail landscape, causing a massive acceleration in ecommerce, and the sheer amount of data populated. However, with a modern and agile infrastructure and the right data storage, businesses can provide their customers with the frictionless shopping experience they desire and keep them coming back for more.

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