Executive's Corner, Owned Media

I look up at the clock and realize I’ve been surfing eBay, hypnotically engaged yet directionless for the past two hours. And I realize that what began as a quick search for a ball cap has turned into much more than that—a pleasantly surprising, almost-too-conveniently constructed browsing session of everything I love and want, or might want.

Thanks, eBay, for being the engine of online shopping that you are, keeping me from getting to sleep at a reasonable time tonight. Someone, something, I figured, has to be behind the curtain. And something surely is.

If it feels like e-commerce websites like eBay know you so well, that they seem to know exactly what you want, when you want it—almost biogenetically engineered to serve your every online shopping need—it’s because they’re built to do just that.

eBay’s “Customer DNA,” the company’s central data repository and customer relationship management (CRM) center, was engineered with one specific goal in mind—to provide more personal and relevant outbound marketing. That was the topic that Patrick Hildebrand, Director, eBay, and Sridhar Paidi, Sr. Product Manager, eBay, recently discussed at the Teradata 2014 Partners Conference & Expo in Nashville back in 2014.

The eBay Effect: Data Galore

eBay brings in yearly revenue upwards of $18 billion and employs more than 33,500 people globally. It is, without question, “e-normous”. In its beginning stages, eBay was actually known as an online auction site. But it’s evolved since that perception was established, back at the height of the Internet boom.

Now, most people recognize the brand as a place you can buy virtually anything, including a $400,000 plane…Woah. In fact, 80 percent of items sold are new products. It’s clear that eBay has capitalized big time on its e-commerce strategy. And how it did so is pretty fascinating.

More stats, first:

  • Each day, eBay generates 50 terabytes of new behavioral/transactional data
  • Every five minutes, a car or truck is bought via the mobile app in the U.S.
  • Every 12 seconds, a women’s handbag is bought via the mobile app in the U.S.
  • There have been 260 million downloads of eBay’s mobile app

Armed with what seems like almost too much data, eBay was tasked with understanding said data to gain individualized insights about its customers and their buying habits, characteristics, likes and preferences.

Though data was available, eBay was challenged to break down their data, dispersed by business units and across the data warehouse. It wasn’t long before a team of data scientists was introduced to focus strictly on customer data. Soon, it became clear that these data scientists were spending a lot of time just trying to find data, understand it and clean it before any actionable insights could be had. Mending this divide between IT’s capabilities and marketing’s goals (to use data and analytics to optimize every interaction with every customer) was in need of refinement.

Customer DNA

Enter “Customer DNA,”a single customer repository enabled by Teradata’s Enterprise Data Warehouse, the central system that collects all data. This allows for ultra-segmenting and targeting based on high value, medium value and low-value information.

Now, insights to drive business decisions and set strategy were able to be had. For example, eBay discovered that auction users—i.e. users who opted to “Bid” instead of “Buy It Now”—are more loyal than non-auction users.

It became clear that by cross-checking previously disparate data sets, new insights would follow. Results thus far have been staggering. Insights and models built from Customer DNA resulted in incremental sales in the first half of 2014.

“Customer DNA is becoming the backbone for eBay.” – Patrick Hildebrand, Director, eBay ß Text box

With enhanced data-driven marketing capabilities, eBay focused primarily on making its email marketing super-individualized and relevant. For example, “Daily Deals” were set up for select users—new deals based on search history sent every day. Pre-Customer DNA, these daily deals weren’t relevant or personalized. Now, reminders on “hot items” are sent to users, updating them on items they’re watching and the available inventory.

Emails tell recipients things like, “127 people watched this hot item in the last week. Only 8 left in stock!” They proved to be effective in generating more conversions than a traditional sale with no deadline to buy.

“Trending items” show which keywords are being searched the most, so if a customer has a high propensity in the category, they’ll get an email about the trending topic. First-time buyers also receive an email encouraging them to get involved in more than buying—selling (eBay has found that sellers are their most engaged customers).

Continuous Improvement

Is it perfect? No. I’ll sometimes receive an email for a product similar to what I like, but not exactly. For example, I search for a lot of basketball gear on eBay. However, this offer was irrelevant, as I don’t even know where my PS3 is:

ebay nba2k15 adAnd this one…as a guy looking for menswear, I’m unlikely to click on this:

ebay cynthia vincent adBut when it’s done right, striking the perfect balance of context and relevancy, made just for you – boy, it’s hard not to click:

ebay baseball hats adEven if it’s a little bit off, they’re using insights they’ve accurately collected about me to send me offers around stuff I love. eBay must constantly innovate and seek ways to accommodate its more than 150 million active buyers. They do this with an easy-to-use interface, quality protection and sales monitoring, safe transactional purchasing, customer service and – most importantly for me – relevant offers, discounts, and suggestions.

The Future of Online Shopping

I must confess, I do possess the ability to X-out at any time, of course, and eventually do. But there is always more; always a good offer on the sidebar. Before I know it, I have 23 tabs open, all showing items I might like, all with “similar items” that are also tempting my click.

As I look up, after those two-hour long browsing sessions on eBay, I realize something. I realize that the road I took had a few pit stops (and many tabs open on my desktop), but that this was a really good thing – chances are astronomically good that I found what I was looking for plus more due to the high level of relevancy and contextual offering that eBay has so beautifully mastered.

I realize that more and more customers like me are moving toward online shopping and that using technological capabilities and individualized insights is drastically transforming how brands are able to connect with the always-on customer. No longer do I run from store to store looking for my favorite pair of sneakers or that hat I need. It’s all at my fingertips.

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