Underpants Gnomes and Big Data

Underpants Gnomes and Big DataOK, I know it’s a weird title. For those that don’t know, Underpants Gnomes is the title of a South Park episode that first aired in 1998 about a group of less than stealthy Gnomes that had a grand three phase plan:

  • Phase 1: Collect Underpants
  • Phase 2: ?
  • Phase 3: Profit

Change Phase 1 to “Collect Data” and I think it’s an eerily similar plan to how many approach big data.

To avoid the big question mark in phase 2, use an expert. Installing Hadoop and tinkering around with how to get from collecting data to profit can be a long road if you don’t have the experience to hit the ground running. Even to those that are somewhat seasoned, putting together Phase 2 is the magic.

The Three “P”s of Retail Big Data

This “magic” is a matter of experience with large data sets and knowing how to correlate large amounts of data to uncover information that has value. Many online retailers make a smart choice to go with proven technology to begin to reap the benefits of big data analysis and turn phase two from a question mark into a reality. The good news is that there are several amazing products in this space that can help retailers make smarter decisions regarding 3 ‘P’s of retail big data:

  • Personalization: Find out what buyers want based on data about their past purchases. This may include others who purchased similar items, social media data, customer service transcripts. There are a lot of possible vendors that can help here. Monetate is one well-known choice. There are many others.
  • Pricing: Use data based on a shoppers on-site behavior along with inventory and cost data to provide dynamic pricing to customers. Several companies provide great products here, such as QuickLizard, that integrate with existing platforms making dynamic pricing a reality with a minimum of work.
  • Prediction: The holy grail of big data for retailers is predictive analytics. I’ve seen Coherent Path’s demo of this technology and it’s astounding what can be discovered about customers and how they may be guided to products that would increase the value of a customer.

Some large retailers employ data scientists to work with teams of developers to uncover intelligence about their customers.  The vast majority employ solutions developed by such experts that can be made specific to a retailers needs.  Making a good start with big data is all about getting started. Quickly.

Know of other products or practices for producing retail big data results? Post a comment below!

Cybercrime: A Cost of Doing Business?



Cybercrime: A Cost of Doing Business?Much has been made of the recent data breach at Target, and many place blame squarely on those responsible for making the breach possible. I’ve heard about a few arrests here and there of individuals with stolen credit card numbers, but the company and it’s employees paid the biggest price of all. Certainly negligence played a part here and that should be dealt with, but how much damage was actually done because of the security breach?  For Target, and many other companies, it may not even be measurable.

A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggests that cybercrime is a growth industry. Why? Because of the high rewards and low risk. Continue reading

3 Reasons Why Online Retail Should Focus on Mobile Web Over Native Apps


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When thinking of developing a mobile presence for an eCommerce site, many people think of apps first and mobile web second. For most, I think this is the opposite of what it should be, but many companies continue to get lured by the sexiness of app development, the possibilities of native platforms and he huge success of some apps. Native app development is certainly appropriate and necessary in some cases, but there are three good reasons to look to mobile web first:

Lower Cost of Development: Native app development skills are growing at a fast pace within the developer community, but can still be quite expensive when compared to typical web UI programming costs. There are a growing number of companies that provide offshore mobile development at affordable rates, but there still exists the need to be able to manage an offshore development team, even if with an onshore project manager. Included with the cost of development is the cost of deployment, which can be complicated by the gating effect of app stores, especially Apple’s appstore. Trying out functionality via mobile web most often leverages an investment already made in similar functionality on a web site by many companies and this can be a shortcut to testing functionality with your users. You can always decide to develop native apps when a real need has been demonstrated for functionality that truly requires a native implementation.

Similar Capabilities: The vast majority of functionality that an eCommerce site requires needs is capable of being developed in both mobile web and native technology. With the addition of the html5 canvas and gesture aware javascript libraries, so much more is possible than just a few years ago. Push notifications remain one thing that, should they be required, still require native mobile development to be leveraged to the fullest extent. Native development should also be considered if high performance of key UI components is required and cannot be implemented using caching, manifest files, and similar techniques to make web apps more responsive and available offline. An early example of an app that “installed” itself and looked almost like a native app is forecast.io. In reality, this is a bookmark but using standard mobile web development techniques, it looked and (mostly) felt as if it was a native application.

Limited Success of Most Native Apps: The latest Visionmobile Developer Economics Report shows the reality of mobile app success. A tiny 1.6% of app developers earn the majority of revenue for paid applications which is an interesting statistic, whether you have a paid app or not. It leads to the reality that apps are largely seen as disposable and many are forgotten and deleted just a short time after their install on a mobile device. Most apps simply aren’t seen as must-haves, but are seen as also-rans. This is a very revealing report — take a look.

For these reasons, it is usually a better choice to test mobile functionality using mobile web development techniques and save the investment for native development when the needs are specific to what native does better than mobile web. There are certainly situations where native development is a must, but for eCommerce companies, these situations require careful consideration. The mobile web approach is less expensive, more flexible, and will likely be more successful for many online retailers over the long run.

Three Laws, Two eCommerce Outcomes: Death and Taxes


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cautiontaxesRecent legislation that passed the House is poised for a vote in the Senate, should they get around to it anytime soon. While this legislation’s intent is to level the sales tax playing field between local retailers and online retailers, it will likely do more harm than good in the long run.

  • Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA): Placed a moratorium on internet access taxes that expires on November 1, 2014. A few states that were charging taxes prior to the moratorium being enacted were grandfathered and allowed to continue collecting access taxes. The house also passed The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) last week that permanently bans taxing internet access.
  • Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA): Would allow states to collect sales taxes from online retailers regardless of whether they have a physical location (or nexus) in the state.
  • Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA):  Essentially a combination of the above two laws, MITFA would extend the moratorium on internet access taxes for 10 years and ban grandfathered states from collecting access taxes all while allowing states to collect sales tax from online retailers without a nexus in the state.

So we’re up for a little banter between the House and Senate over taxation of access and online sales and I’m not surprised to see them combined as a way to get a little leverage on moving things ahead. As usual, when legislation like this is enacted, some of the longer term effects Continue reading