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Possibilities Podcast Episode: 20

What's something in e-commerce that's not sexy, but it's very, very important?

Answer: Data

With the accelerated online buying trend brought to you by COVID-19, data's role is growing more and more important, but also tougher to understand and manage.

Aisha Khan is the Chief Strategy Officer at Pharmapacks and an Adjunct Professor of data visualization and supply chain management at Rutgers University.

She joined us on the latest episode of The Possibilities Podcast to talk about her perspectives on the way COVID-19 is changing e-commerce and the role of data and data management.

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The Internal Perspective on What's Happening in e-Commerce

There's been an absolute lift in the e-com business, which you'd think would be amazing. But there has been a mad rush to Amazon and e-commerce stores such as Walmart and even Target. The big boys.

If you're not one of them, then whether you're getting a share of the lift or not depends on your category. If you sell travel plans, not so much. But Lysol providers? Toilet paper vendors? Those retailers are raking in money. Remember the first few weeks of panic buying for sanitizer and supplies? Those buyers put a lot of stress on the fulfillment, warehouse, and seller sectors.

So retailers had to ask: How do we fulfill all these orders? How do we plan now to scale knowing that all of a sudden this rush to e-commerce is probably going to last long term?

"There has been a fundamental shift," Aisha said, "in brand strategy where a lot of brands a year ago were like, 'Oh, I'll never sell on Amazon. It's very brand dilutive. I want to just be easy to see.' Now, there are some brands that we're speaking to that a year ago wouldn't take our phone calls and now are interested in speaking to us."

The Change Management Perspective

COVID has forced us all to be more thoughtful because you can't do everything at once. It's an interesting time to manage change, though. Amazon, Wal-mart, Target, they're all figuring it out. Initiatives such as click-and-collect and online grocery shopping have proven tremendously successful for many retailers.

But Amazon still reigns as king, despite the fact that they've had shipping delays. Delays may promote anxiety, but as long as shoppers are getting their products without leaving home, it's okay.

"So from an external perspective," Aisha Khan, "it's just forcing more leadership and executives to actually implement the changes that they probably wanted to wait to implement until later."

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e-Commerce Data Strategy Through COVID and Beyond

Businesses are shifting to e-commerce, and everyone's looking for richer data or more robust insight. They're interested in managing and growing their business, and they need data to do that.

There's inventory data and metrics, marketing media data and metrics, and sales metrics. You don't really need to look at all of them. You just have to understand what you need to know.

Aisha asks questions such as:

  • What are the strategic questions we're trying to answer with our reporting?
  • Is it really a hundred things or is it just 10 or 15 key things?
  • What are the metrics for each of these questions you need to look at?

A lot of people are overcomplicating their data strategy when really it's straightforward, not easy but straightforward. First, get a hold of all your data. Get it all in one place. Create your data warehouse. Create your data lake. It's a cumbersome process to get all your data in one place, but it can be done.

You may even find you have data sitting in places you didn't know. And then there's overlapping data, and more fun to be had there. Once you have all that data together, though, look at your next set of questions:

  • What are the priority questions we need to answer in the business?
  • Is it building reporting for our partners or is it really reporting for ourselves?
  • What do we prioritize? What's that roadmap?

Then, collect the data in a way you can then visualize it. Everyone's got their take on what the best visualization is.

By the way, the folks sponsoring data visualization are unsung heroes because they really have to figure out how to make data something people will actually look at and glean insight from.

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"I felt like I had the opportunity from Rutgers to actually create my own curriculum," Aisha said. "I chose data visualization. I took my students on field trips. I took them to Box Warehouse, which sells online wholesale items. I taught them Tableau, which they were able to put on their resume."

Data visualization is very important. It continues to evolve as tools evolve. But at the end of the day, it just boils down to this: Using data, how can you help a leader quickly figure out what they need to do?

It's not sexy, but it's very important.

This post is based on The Possibilities Podcast with Aisha Khan. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe here.

If you don’t use iTunes, listen here.

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About the Author

Brendan Kavaney
Global Head of Field Marketing and Demand Generation

Brendan Kavaney- Possibilities Podcast Host and Global Head of Field Marketing and Demand Generation at Mindtree, a 20 year Marketer with a big passion for Marketing Technology and all things Digital. He leads a highly innovative team across a vast array of industries including Banking, Financial Services & Insurance, Retail, Manufacturing & Consumer Goods, Travel, Transportation & Hospitality, Technology & Media.

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