Leveraging Critical E-Commerce Data in Real Time

Today’s businesses are operating in real time as the demand for instant access to information and services grows. While the need to meet “instant gratification” status continues to rise across all industry sectors, today’s online retailer is taking advantage of key technologies to build a closer relationship with its customers.

By leveraging critical transactional data, some of the world’s largest online businesses are leading the charge in understanding their customers more deeply to better serve their needs and thereby increase satisfaction and loyalty. Today’s rapid pace and digital lifestyle have driven online businesses to a whole new level of performance, and customer satisfaction is now based on data management in the modern enterprise.

Any Time, Any Place

We live in a world of the digital, always-open marketplace — a place where a consumer can go online any time to buy virtually anything. How many times have you logged on to a Web site, shopped and tried to check out, only to find that the site was down or was too slow to process your order? Frustrated, you probably logged off vowing never to shop at that site again, or you moved on to its closest competitor.

How can today’s online business avoid situations like this and do a better job of managing critical customer information to improve the entire customer experience? By enabling continuous access to the freshest data, today’s businesses can leverage that data and enable personalized targeted offerings to consumers to drive additional revenue and, ultimately, brand loyalty.

There are two critical aspects to consider when you sell electronically: First, is the system available on an ongoing basis so that customers can log in and gain efficient response times? And second, is the business leveraging its knowledge about you to better serve you and offer relevant and appropriate products and services?

Today’s customer doesn’t want to wait until your systems come back online, or be presented with the same marketing offers time and again that they have no interest in. It’s time consuming, frustrating and just not good business.

A recent survey conducted by the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) showed that with the increase in Internet-based businesses that require networks and data to be continuously available 24x7x365, companies can no longer afford to have their systems offline — planned or otherwise. The survey found that eight out of 10 organizations have their databases available on a 24×7 basis — proof that we live in a continuous, real-time world, and the digital marketplace needs to follow these best practices in order to stay competitive.

Transactional Data Management

To achieve real-time access to real-time information, organizations need a transactional data management (TDM) solution. TDM solutions provide guaranteed capture, routing, transformation, delivery, and verification of data transactions across heterogeneous environments, in real time. TDM solutions enable organizations to effectively maximize the performance, accessibility, and availability of the data that drives mission-critical business processes.

Transactional data management is the enabling technology platform for real-time reporting, active data warehousing and continuous application and service availability. As businesses increasingly need to access, analyze and act on data about their customers, TDM technology allows for real-time data feeds to the data marts or data warehouses in order to produce up-to-the minute reports and overall improved analytics.

Here’s a good example of how organizations are using TDM solutions to better understand their customers. Overstock.com, a leading online retailer, recently embarked on an aggressive initiative to capture and deliver information from multiple applications and feed that information, in real time, to its data warehouse. Just like major department stores, online retailers need to know what their customers are buying — or not buying — as well as if their marketing campaigns are working.

Ideally, this knowledge needs to be almost immediate in order to take advantage of any revenue opportunity. For an online retailer, day-old customer data is of little benefit. An online retailer — or, for that matter, any retailer — needs to have the ability to gain a single view of the customer so that it can better understand the customer demographics, preferences, buying behavior and propensity to purchase specific products and services.

The best way to get this information in a timely fashion is to pull the transactions from the primary online transaction processing system and feed it to the data warehouse. From there, marketing can pull ad hoc reports and perform product and customer profitability analysis in order to better tailor future marketing campaigns and therefore drive more revenue.

Deciphering the Data

With TDM technology, you can efficiently populate your warehouse from multiple data sources, decide which data you want to pull, and even transform the data on the fly to map to your data warehouse environment. From there, marketing can quickly determine if consumers are clicking in the right place, if an e-mail is effectively driving consumers to the site, and if those customers are making purchases. With access to this near real-time data, this growing online retailer can now track customer behavior as it’s happening, rather than waiting one, two or three days.

In the past, before deploying TDM technology, the system would be tied up for long periods of time to run a single report on the business day’s transactions, causing significant reductions in performance and productivity. Now the retailer is able to run reports around the clock without putting additional strain on the production system. By accessing the real-time data any time, it can also track profitability and determine whether its business processes are working.

Leveraging real-time data not only impacts the retailer’s bottom line, but also drastically improves the overall shopping experience for the customer. A recent online shopping experience is a perfect example of real-time data in action.

After spending a couple of weeks browsing for laptops, a consumer receives a customized e-mail promotion for a “one-day-only laptop clearance sale.” In this case, the data driving the decision is a few days old. During the checkout process, another promotional message announces: “The laptop you are about to purchase uses special memory that we have in stock. If you upgrade to 1GB, we’ll throw in free shipping.” Here, real-time data — only a few seconds old — is driving the promotion and a 20 percent upsell for the purchase. With this “personalized” in-store service, the shopping experience is drastically improved, and the customer logs off happy and likely to repeat doing business in the future.

Best Practices for Online Retailer

In addition to deploying TDM technology, consider some of the following strategies for understanding your customers and keeping your “less than loyal” customers:

  • Design for real-time data feeds to your data store, and let the business determine the “right time” to use the data for reporting and analysis.
  • Populate your data marts and data warehouses with critical transactional data as soon as an event take place, i.e., once it’s committed on your primary production system.
  • Achieve a single view of your customer by pushing data from multiple sources into your data mart or warehouse.
  • Once your business users come to rely upon the data marts and warehouses, consider how to ensure the highest levels of availability, and build up to running an active configuration in order to maximize your system investment.

As more and more traditional consumers move to the Web to make purchases, the dynamics of online shopping are shifting. In order to stay competitive in this “always-open” marketplace, online retailers need the technology to better manage critical business transactions and customer information so they can build loyal, satisfied customers.

By implementing TDM technology, online retailers can not only enable the high availability of their online storefront, but also leverage important data about their customers so they can better serve them. Lastly, by leveraging real-time data, organizations can better track business and fine-tune their core business processes very quickly to keep the bottom line in check.

Naveen Puttagunta is a product manager for GoldenGate Software, a leader in transactional data management solutions.

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