How eBay unlocks customer data DNA

E-commerce giant utilises marketing and analytics team integration strategies to maximise data value.

There are many ways you can expose products to the relevant customer without it being creepy, according to Ebay’s head of customer engagement, Harvey Sanchez.

Speaking at ADMA’s Data Day, Sanchez stressed the most important tactic in marketing is to master the fine art of exposing the right information at the right time to the customer.

“The challenge is that you could be perceived as extremely creepy, in trying to find anything about them [customers] and keep exposing them everywhere they go,” he said. “Trying to expose the right information at the right time, is in fact, an art. It needs to be done in a sensitive way, so as not to disengage the customer. It is not about just pushing products onto the customer, every time they go anywhere.”

To achieve this fine balance, Sanchez said Ebay looks towards unlocking the ‘customer data DNA’. Every piece and strand of the ‘data DNA’ is something Ebay has collected about that customer through monitoring both on and off-site behaviour. As a result, everyone’s experience is extremely customised to match their unique customer profile.

“We create over 2000 elements within these customer data strands that allow us to create a very strong model to see who that person is and what things are interesting to them,” he said.

Sanchez said 86 per cent of people search for ebay.com.au, which means that once they are on the site, the information and data received needs to be timely and relevant to ensure the transaction is smooth and the consumer keeps coming back.

“When we segment customers, we look at traditional Ebay behaviours,” he continued. “We look at what they are browsing, what are their search queries and what sort of responses they get. Then we look at what sort of information can we collect from other sources, like for example, demographics and interests.”

The information allows Ebay to predict the type of purchase the consumer makes next, or the type of things they may be interested in. Significantly, this allows the online retailer to pinpoint the stage of a consumer’s life, therefore evolving the data to able to more accurately predict what the customer is going to want to purchase next, Sanchez said.

“This means we can expose to the consumer the right content, at the right time in a unique way,” he said. “This is one of marketing’s biggest challenges. Consumers today are far cleverer than they were a few years ago. They have far more options, so having a predictive targeted model that allows you to really define that target and get to the straight and narrow of that customer, and provide that relevancy, is the number one tool for us.”

This data DNA profiling can even predict when a customer is having a baby based on the type of products they are searching for on Ebay.

“We can actually narrow it down to about a week, plus or minus, of when they are about to give birth, based on all their activities,” Sanchez said. “So if we know that the customer is in a life stage, we can expose them to the right inventory that we have. That is the most important way that we get the right engagement that is effective for the customer, as it is for us.”

Separating the self-expressionists from the treasurer hunters

Data analytics and marketing integration also allows Ebay to identify consumer attitudes, how they feel and who they are as a person. This allows customer segmentation based on internal identifiers that are determined outside of external segmentation models.

“We have internal identifiers like whether someone is a self-expressionist, who likes to show off what they have, like nice shoes or flashy cars,” Sanchez said. “Or we have treasure hunters, people who like to go out and look for that bargain, or look for those collectibles and memorabilia.”

Aligning with external organisations then allows Ebay to tap into additional information relevant to their customers. This has also resonated for Qantas, which aligned its Frequent Flyer program with external parties to create a more far-reaching marketing alignment.

According to Sanchez, off-Ebay behaviour can also be monitored through Facebook and Twitter to determine how customers are feeling about certain things.

“We ran a mothers’ program just recently to allow mums to buy their nappies off Ebay,” he said. “One of the things we realised is mums are on Facebook a lot and they are shopping in a particular store with their Facebook open. So we can start to collect very important off Ebay data in order for us to provide more relevant information.”

Making the customer engagement experience more insights-driven means Ebay focuses predominantly on differentiated treatment based on the customer’s unique profile. This includes delivering a consistent experience across omni-channels.

“This all needs to be insights driven, data-savvy but fully automated in order to scale,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez highlighted the most important aspect of data-driven marketing is to test, because no matter how smart the data scientists, analytics or insights teams are, there are certain things that “just work”.

“For example, we have a buyer trigger, which triggers when someone browsed, but did not buy, like a tennis racket,” he explained. “This finds more information about you, to figure out why you did not buy. Then at some point at your life stage, we are going to expose you to better tennis rackets, cheaper tennis rackets, depending on a lot of that information.”

Future points to mobile and real-time engagement

Moving forward, Sanchez claimed mobile technology has become critical to customer engagement, with mobile contributing to four times more purchases on Ebay than PC alone.

“A car is bought on Ebay every 20 minutes, a pair of shoes every minute and a tablet every four minutes,” he said. “But it is not the statistics that are impressive, it is the behaviour around mobile and who uses mobile more than others that is critical to determining how to deliver the right level of information at the right time.”

Sanchez found location data particularly exciting, primarily because it means Ebay can start to marry the offline and online customer information more efficiently and relate that relevancy back to the customer.

“For instance, we can find a certain person is in a certain store, or that they like to shop at a certain pharmacy,” he said. “We can then start to create the right level of engagement with them, based on information we can collect off Ebay.”

But it is not all about data, Sanchez said. Talking to customers, both buyers and sellers, in order to understand them is just as critical to long-term success.

“We have over 28,000 businesses that are dependent on Ebay for their livelihood, so we need to marry the right business to the right customer - as any efficient marketplace should do,” he said.

When it comes to future trends, Ebay is looking at real-time customer engagement to pinpoint at what time of the day they should engage with that customer, or whether they can be influenced by a purchase decision based on factors such as the weather outside. Ultimately, Sanchez said it is all about engaging with the customer at the right time, with an attractive offer and the right incentive.

“Everything you do needs to be married to one single point, which is pure relevancy,” he added. “If you can do that, then you can get fantastic results.”

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