Spotlight: Big data in retail and ecommerce

August 26, 2014

In today's landscape, big data has moved beyond its buzzword phase and is now being utilized in companies to provide real value. Overall, the analysis of large amounts of information promises to bring a number of benefits, including improved decision-making capabilities as well as better insight into company processes.

When it comes to the use of big data in the real world, there are several cases that stand head and shoulders apart from others. To put it simply, these retailers are doing things with big data that many didn't even think was possible. Let's take a look at these interesting cases and examine what they can teach us about leveraging big data to our own advantage.

Netflix predicts success of “House of Cards”

When it was first launched, Netflix was billed as the next Blockbuster, but was that much better because the service also lived online. The website catered to users by offering previous seasons of popular television shows as well as a plethora of movie titles. Now, Netflix has branched out with original content made available only to its own users. Most recently, the company launched its "House of Cards" series, starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, stated the New York Times. And thanks to its strategic use of big data, Netflix knew the show would be a hit before filming ever began.

(And if I might editorialize for a moment, being a huge fan of House of Cards, I am quite despondent that Netflix was shut out of the top Emmy awards last night!! But I digress…..)

In 2013, there were about 27 million Netflix subscribers in the U.S. and 33 million worldwide. These users aren’t just consuming the content provided by the streaming platform; they are also helping to shape what they watch through the big data they create. In a 2013 article, The New York Times noted that Netflix leveraged its repository of customer data and determined that many users streamed multiple titles related to Fincher. It combined these findings with the popularity of Spacey movie titles among its users; in addition, the British version of “House of Cards” had done well.

Taking these three elements separately, they may not mean much. But Netflix united these big data findings in its decision to produce "House of Cards," and the rest, as they say, is history.

Overall, Netflix prides itself on its use of big data, including leveraging its customer information to make recommendations as to what users will want to watch next. This provides the ultimate customized experience.

The New York Times article quoted Joris Evers, Netflix’s director of global corporate communications: “There are 33 million different versions of Netflix.”

Ancestry.com takes the work out of creating a family tree

Before Ancestry.com was even a twinkle it its creators' eyes, anyone who wanted to create a family tree had quite a bit of legwork ahead of them. Digging up old family records, talking to relatives and sometimes even historians just to stay on the right track was a considerable undertaking. However, this all changed when Ancestry.com burst onto the scene.

According to a 2012 InformationWeek article, the company has always been based on the use of big data to discover a family's roots, but the amount of information it calls upon has considerably increased in the past few years. In 2012, the organization had about 4 petabytes of data which included more than 40,000 records, containing birth and death certificates, immigration information, military documents and photos. Now, Ancestry.com boasts more than 200,000 records within its 10 petabyte database, and includes DNA test results. Customers can even have their DNA sequenced to find relatives in the organization's database, potentially discovering a long-lost cousin.

To index all of this big data and make each record searchable, the company uses an innovative content processing system. Overall, Ancestry.com has helped thousands unearth famous ancestors and their family's roots, all thanks to big data.

While these examples of big data use may seem extraordinary, they would not have been possible without the support of a data center housing every piece of information used in the process.

How might your business use big data analytics to deliver greater value? And how might your data center support that strategy?

Donough Roche, Vice President, Sales Engineering

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