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E-commerce’ 4 biggest obstacles to actionable data

With more and more consumers turning to online shopping, e-commerce websites are becoming flush with data that can illuminate who’s buying their products. Information gathered with data is invaluable to understanding the typical customer, their path to purchase, and what might hold them up along the way.

So with all this data available, it should be easy for any e-commerce site to be an instant success, right? Not so fast – in some cases, the sheer quantity of data is enough to scare off any company, especially if they don’t have specialised analysts on the team to make sense of it. Also, some businesses get stymied right out the gate and have no clue how to implement data analysis, let alone how to take advantage of it.

Whether you’re new to actionable data or searching for some extra pointers, let’s take a look at four of the biggest obstacles you might be facing:

Making the switch to becoming data-driven

The first step can sometimes be the hardest, and never is this truer than when a company is making the move to modernise itself. Yet for many businesses, it’s absolutely worth paying attention to measurable marketing data – especially if it means you might be left behind otherwise. An article at MyCustomer quotes Jessica Cross, the director of marketing at Fliptop, as saying the following:

“A recent Forbes study found that leaders in data-driven marketing are more than six times more likely than laggards to report achieving competitive advantage in increasing profitability (45 per cent vs. 7 per cent). Consumers have been conditioned to expect highly personalized, engaging experiences when interacting with brands. The companies able to deliver on consumers’ expectations – utilizing data to provide outstanding customer experiences – are winning.”

It’s no wonder that so many companies are making the rush to digitise their business – there’s a huge revenue stream right there for the taking. The problem is that many of these companies are still stuck in old ways of thinking, and don’t know how to navigate the new and unfamiliar boundaries of e-commerce. This can result in negative brand interactions online, checkout processes on websites that don’t work, or simply a lack of understanding around cross-channel marketing.

Figuring out the customer’s journey

Data allows e-commerce businesses to get the clearest possible picture of their customer – it can show how a customer discovers the website, where they click, what products interest them the most, and what steps they take to make the move to purchase. But without making that data actionable, the customer’s journey goes nowhere, and marketers lose the chance to identify what’s bringing customers to the business.

A 2015 article on Contently noted the following: “In March 2015, less than 30 per cent of marketers were collecting data at the point of sale, and only 34 per cent were using online-generated codes to track offline purchases, according to eMarketer. As a result, more than 60 per cent of marketers worldwide felt that their measurements were incomplete, and 35 per cent admitted they just did not understand the customer journey.” In situations like this, it’s best to have a unified strategy when it comes to collecting customer data, and possibly even put together a team to make sense of the measurements.

Not being trustworthy enough for customers

Every year, there are stories in the media about data breaches and sensitive financial information getting hacked. This doesn’t bode well for collecting actionable data, especially when marketers are relying on the ability to track their customers’ purchase journeys. If more customers become sceptical about allowing companies access to their buying habits, then it’s going to become harder to gather data – not to mention the trust between customer and business could be lost.

“The whole point of using big data is to find ways to make the buying process easier and more comfortable for consumers,” says Contently, “If customers feel their privacy is being invaded, they will lose trust in the brand and leave them behind.” The article cites an eMarketer report on big data that finds that “less than 20 per cent of U.S. smartphone and tablet users aged 13 to 54 feel companies don’t do enough to protect their digital privacy” and “roughly half of respondents felt that companies ‘somewhat’ protected their information, but they needed to be more transparent about their privacy policies.” Being upfront about privacy and what can and cannot be done with a customer’s information is key to retaining their trust.

Finding the right data

“The sheer volume of data that is available makes it difficult to ascertain what data is the right data,” says the article at MyCustomer, quoting John Fleming, marketing director at Webtrends EMEA & APAC. “Analysing Big Data can seem daunting and many marketers may find their first challenge is what to capture and where to start. Ideally there needs to be a realignment of the marketing department towards marketing technologists (who are few and far between at the present time).”

Without a proper team in place to analyse the data, it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Many e-commerce companies should think of it as trying to read a book in a foreign language without the aid of translators. Unless you have analysts on hand, you won’t get far in parsing the usable data from the rest of the numbers. Although data can be gathered from multiple sources and digital footprints, it can be hard to see what’s actually measurable and actionable. Moving forward, as more e-commerce industries begin to rely on data, it will become more worthwhile to devote budget towards hiring expert in-house or third-party data analysts in marketing.


Although it may seem that the path to finding actionable data is filled with obstacles, the good thing is that as data becomes more important for success, so too will technology change to meet the challenge. Data-driven marketing is the best way to understand one’s customers, and a larger emphasis on analysts along with the development of measurement technology will ensure a future with far fewer obstacles.

Becky Wu, Senior Executive Vice President at Luth Research