What items are selling well? And when are you selling them? Who are you selling them to?
What items are the most popular and what sits on the shelves?
Where do your customers come from? How old are they? And where do they live?
Chances are you already have some rough ideas, but big data can give you precise answers to these questions. Tools that collect and analyse big data for small businesses have been an utter game-changer.
Big data analytics solutions can unlock a world of actionable insights for you and your business.
Data is nothing new. It’s always existed — without records, everyone would be flying blind. What’s changed is how we access it and what we can do with it.
Data used to be locked away in floppy disks and in hard drives, in handwritten ledgers and in filing cabinets. If you wanted to analyse your business’s data, you’d have to break out the calculator, or pay top-dollar for someone to write you a custom programme to analyse it.
Tech has, for one thing. Computing costs have fallen, and there are a plethora of fast, cheap, and user-friendly tools to help you take control of your data and to unlock actionable insights — insights that can help you boost your margins and sell more. That’s big data.
Now, small businesses can take advantage of business intelligence and predictive analytics tools, as well as tools that help analyse their users and their customers.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to big data — you name it, you can track it.
Shrinking computer costs and the advent of cloud tech means that the kind of number-crunching power that drives big data analytics has become pretty cheap, and easily-accessible for small businesses.
As a result, small business owners can gain unparalleled visibility over nearly every aspect of their business using cheap and easy-to-use tools.
But what can you do with it?
If you’ve got a bricks ‘n’ mortar store and you’re not using an EPOS system, you’re missing out on golden opportunities to collect data.
An EPOS system is like a smart till. Old till systems are pretty much glorified cash drawers. They hold money, and they can calculate change — but they don’t do much else.
EPOS systems, by contrast, are far smarter. They collect data on every transaction you take, and can tell you what’s happening in your store.
Pretty much every EPOS system has a suite of back-office analytics that display sales reports. Each EPOS offers different reports, but common ones break down your sales by item, by category, and by time.
Some EPOS systems can tell you this data in real time, so you can see what’s selling as you’re selling it — as well as what stock you’ve got left.
Many EPOS systems have CRM — Customer Record Management — systems that can tie purchases to customers, so you have records on who your best customers are and what they buy.
These reports can help small business-owners to find out what’s selling and when, and to optimise their business. If you know what sells well and what doesn’t, and who you’re selling to, then you can work to sell more of your best-sellers.
But it isn’t just bricks ‘n’ mortar stores that can benefit from big data and analytics.
Online businesses with webstores can capture a wealth of data that’s even more granular and even more actionable than the data that EPOS systems snag.
Not only can popular ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce, Squarespace, and Magento produce purchase data that’s even more detailed than EPOS systems, but you can track how your users use your website, right from their first click.
Tools like Google Analytics let you track how people use your website — right down to the individual (but anonymised) user — telling you how users found your website, where they click, how long they stay on pages, where users come from, and much more.
Google Analytics is used by businesses of all sizes, all over the world. And the best part is that it’s free.
Used in conjunction with tools like the Facebook Pixel, you can track users who interact with your Facebook ads and see where they go on your website, and what they buy. The upshot of this is that you can calculate the ROI on your Facebook ads really easily.
And it’s the same story with MailChimp and other email marketing platforms — they integrate with Google Analytics and with popular ecommerce platforms, showing you what customers buy and what money your mailshots are making you.
If you’ve got a web-based business, or even a website, then you pretty much need to use analytics software. You’re really missing a trick if you’re not.
Social media isn’t just a great way of communicating with your audience — it’s also a great way of finding out who your audience is.
Ever wondered about how old your fans are? Or where they’re located? What time people tend to view your posts?
You need social media analytics.
Pretty much every social media platform can give you insights into your follows, telling you who’s seeing your posts and heaps of information about them. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have pretty robust analytics suites for business accounts and pages.
Facebook Insights will give you full stats for each and every one of your posts. You can get high-level overviews, and compare how your page does as a whole to the competition, or drill down into how any one of your posts has performed, even down to the individual users who’ve seen it and clicked on it. If you post video content, then you can get data about how long people watch it for and where viewers drop off.
Buffer has a pretty exhaustive guide to Facebook Insights.
Instagram’s analytics suite is also called Insights, but although the image-based social network is owned by Facebook, Instagram Insights isn’t all that robust. You can use Instagram Insights to see how your feed is performing as a whole, as well as how many people have seen individual posts. You can also access basic data about your followers, splitting them by gender, age, location, and when they are active.
Twitter Analytics isn’t quite as detailed as Facebook Insights, but you can still get pretty detailed. Twitter can tell you a host of info about your followers, including what they’re interested in — which can throw up some pretty surprising results sometimes.
Twitter also lets you export your data into Excel spreadsheets so you can crunch the numbers yourself. Buffer’s guide to Twitter Analytics gives you some great ways to get started, but because you have the raw data yourself, the sky’s the limit.
You can use all this data to craft better Tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and make sure that they really hit home and drive results.
Once you’ve started to collect all this data then you can act on it.
What actions you take on the back of big data insights is going to vary depending on your business, but generally you can do two things:
For instance, a cafe might find that their sales of hot paninis drop by a consistent amount during the summer months. Because they know how much their sales drop by, they can reduce their order of panini bread by a corresponding amount and cut down on wastage while making sure that they don’t run out entirely.
Or, a company that sells a lot online can look at how users interact with their website and work out what parts of the site help to drive sales, and which don’t. They might find that users get to their shop pages using a button on their homepage rather than using the navbar at the top of their site — and then the business can make sure that this button is front and centre of the homepage, and that the text on the button is as catchy and clickable as possible.
Big data has also turned marketing on its head. Data in marketing isn’t restricted to social media.
Google tracks its users’ searches and behaviour patterns in the same way as Facebook and Twitter do. And they use this to dish up adverts to micro-targeted audiences.
Platforms like Google Adwords and Bing Ads are a bit fiddly to get started with, but they can be very powerful tools. Using them allows you to put your message front and centre of users’ searches, but that’s not the really clever part:
The really clever part is retargeting.
This is when adverts for your site ‘follow’ people who have already visited around. Chances are you’ve seen this for yourself — think about when you shop online and then seen adverts for the things you’ve just looked at on other sites.
It can be a really powerful way of re-engaging users who have already been on your website but haven’t taken any action.
Retargeting adverts use smart analytics to keep your site and your products in your customers’ minds, wherever they go. And because they’re so targeted, you can be sure you’re advertising what your customers are looking for.
Big data has become cheaper and easier to access than ever, and it’s changing the way that businesses work. How can you use data in your business?