Data Data everywhere, but not a drop of insight

Mar 1, 2017
Posted by: David

With a gentle nod to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for my title.  I was driven to write this short post as we are forever being told that Google and the big wide web know so much about us.  They track us with cookies, geo location, know what sites we go to and understand who we are.

But do they? I ask this simple question as the last few times I have been abroad Google et al keep on putting a particular advertisement in front of me. Now maybe they know something about me that I don’t.  Just like that Uber knows I may have a Mistress before my wife as they know I keep going to the same residential address that is not my home!  In my case, I live in hope, as the advertisement they have determined is right for me is for Bentley cars.  I admit I like the Bentley convertible, and would love to be able to afford one; but why have Google and other ad servers decided that I am a prime potential customer for a Bentley car?.  Compounding the intrigue, these ads only appear when I am abroad, not at home in the UK.

And this brings me to the crux of the issue, how much do we really know about our customers.   After all I love the way when I hunt for a TV on Google, for the next week, they continually show me advertisements for TV’s and fail to grasp the fact that last week I bought one – this week I am now looking for the BlueRay player.   Many companies have claimed they understand their customers, but this is often either based on data from single retailer loyalty programme, or analysing the data that flows down the payment scheme rails.  But this data from the payment scheme rails is still based on what could fit on an IBM 32 hole punch card!  It is thus very very limited.

If marketers and others are to ever really understand customers then they need to know across all merchants what a customer has purchased, ideally the basket data.  And not just from one mechant. Merchants will not provide this data to third parties, and as one Fuel retailer once said to me “over our dead bodies will we give the scheme the basket (Level 3) data, that is our advantage on our Fuel cards”. Therefore, the only place this information can come from is the customer receipts, and once a retailer hands over a receipt it is the property of the consumer, not the retailer.

Receipts are increasingly going digital, in the US some 25% of all retailers now offer email receipts to customers.  Companies like Itemize are already syncing to email in-boxes, extracting receipts and sorting out the data for the consumer.   How long until Samsung, Google or one of the other wallet players starts to offer this as a service for free to consumers to access the data. After all look at the consumer credit profile market, you used to have to pay Experian to see your credit report continually, then came along companies like Clearscore who gave you the data in return for accessing it and selling you products on the back of it.

How long one wonders until wallet providers start realising that the greatest opportunity for them may not like in how they facilitate payments, but in how they capture and then use the data.