Lifting the Hood for Small Businesses – Retail Analytics & The Cloud
Statistics rule the world, but analytics can allow you to rule your business in the most efficient and productive way! Since the inception of the first IBM digital EPOS systems, large retailers the world over have enjoyed access to highly specific, detailed analytics from a variety of providers. Metrics like this can help drive a business forward, by citing product trends, consumer behaviors and trading history to ensure that marketing and trading practices run in tandem, to boost sales and efficiency. What you end up with is a roadmap for your business cycles based on months or years of useful and attested patterns. But, what about harnessing this for your small business?
Due to cost, for many years this technology has been largely reserved for dominant retail groups with multiple stores in various locations. Now, however, thanks to a migration to the cloud, small businesses, such as your local bakery can gather and use their data as well. This shift in technology affords the business owner less of a requirement for expensive hardware and instead ease of access to subscription based software offerings like Square Register for iPad. Companies like Square are pioneering a leveling of the playing field for small businesses when it comes to sales analytics. This is all in a world where the mobile device is becoming the new cash register, and the software couldn’t be easier to adopt. Just last year, Square reported that 2 million merchants were using its iOS app as the operational POS in their everyday trade. Knowing what to sell and when is an extremely useful tool for small businesses with low buying power, limited opportunities and fewer store locations.
And there’s another revolution on the horizon as well…
Imagine being able to leverage some of the metrics you gather for your social media marketing campaign. It seems that the next stage is earning credits by doing the marketing for the business. Upon purchasing a cupcake for example, you can choose to share that information socially in order to earn loyalty points. This adopts the idea of gamification and social recommendation in one. The gap between actual sales and social marketing activities may be bridged sooner that we expect with a host of new apps in development. Quantitative, reliable data about Facebook/Twitter conversions is easily accessible when this new technological shift is considered. We’re in the information age, but what if the information age becomes the magnification age? What if every consumer’s decision has an automated reaction, that is specific, targeted and relevant to them personally? Is this a scary concept or is it a brilliant one?
‘Over-share’ has fast become a buzzword in the context of social networks, particularly on the location-based-service side of mobile social. Concerns about how safe our data really is and whether or not we’re letting the networks (including the other people in them) know too much of our personal information is an old argument by now. However, could these advances lead to a more efficient and cyclical world? Like all great debates, there are strong narratives for each side. In my opinion, the bottom line is that the analytics gathered by retailers are used simply to improve your overall experience as a consumer, and not as a means of violating your privacy for immediate financial gain. Analytics mean efficiency for business and potentially more positive experience.
Discovering out what you like, what you want and what you will spend money on, and a subsequent catering to your needs will mean a more streamlined retail experience for you. And what’s the problem there. There is EU resistance to this new integrated payments technology as consumer protection is of paramount importance. The issue or contention is around payment information and the cloud. The world of PCI compliance is warming (slowly, at that) to the way systems like Square and Here work (and how the data it collects is shared through different foreign systems such as social networks).
Not only this, but the acquiring market for payment cards is relatively competitive in Europe, and EU Commission’s antitrust cases against VISA and Mastercard have resulted in substantially lower interchange (wholesale) fees being charged by them. The entry of outside players, such as WorldPay has resulted in a contest to retain and gain new business as the more cautious European consumers’ migration to eCommerce matures.
In summary, payments are becoming more open to all, and not alone are they becoming more aligned with a business’s back-end operations. They’re also becoming aligned with the front-end in terms of marketing and through tailored, direct communications.