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What kinds of data are most important to e-commerce merchants?

In the e-commerce sector, business leaders everywhere are eager to devote more resources to collecting and analyzing data to achieve better results. When consumers shop online, they volunteer large volumes of information with every purchase they make. They're sharing their contact information, revealing their spending habits and painting a clear picture of what products they prefer. Companies can use this data to predict future purchases and deliver the right marketing messages.

Of course, it's important to focus on data quality when processing all of this knowledge. When people enter their information into forms online, mistakes are common - people make typographical errors, they accidentally use outdated contact information and they sometimes outright lie. The onus is on the retail companies to sniff out these mistakes and correct them. If they don't, they're wasting time and money to follow bogus leads.

According to iMedia Connection, there's a clear need for an emphasis on data quality in e-commerce, as the sector is growing rapidly. The news source noted that in a recent report from the United States Department of Commerce, online sales were up 18.4 percent in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the same time period last year. That marks the largest year-over-year increase since before the 2008 financial crisis, which means it's vital that companies fine-tune their data-driven strategies in the online arena. If they fail to do so, they could miss out on tremendous profits.

Dan Darnell, vice president of product marketing at customer service firm Baynote, noted that companies need to gather quality data from a variety of channels. People today are engaging with their brands through a variety of devices and applications. Savvy e-commerce companies will collect accurate information from all of them.

"As economic optimism spreads and consumers begin to open their wallets, retailers are investing in the technology they need to stay competitive," Darnell explained. "Investments in mobile and social may grab the headlines, but retailers are also dedicating significant resources behind the scenes. Behind-the-scenes technologies, including e-commerce platforms, email promotions, SEO, and SEM, are at the heart of any effective e-commerce company and are critical to success."

Companies can find quality data everywhere they look. Consider the possibilities:

E-commerce platforms
The most obvious way retailers can gather accurate information is to collect it directly from the customer at the point of sale. Even this data, however, is not immune to error, and companies need to be sure they verify every single tidbit of information that trickles into their databases.

Email promotions
By soliciting information from consumers via email marketing campaigns, companies can gain a better understanding of how shoppers act online and what motivates them to engage with their brands. An added bonus is the built-in data quality aspect. If consumers respond to surveys via email, then they're guaranteed to be providing valid email addresses.

Web forms and landing pages
Data quality plays a pivotal role in helping online retailers collect information on their customers. When consumers use the Web to sign up for coupons and promotions, they're submitting contact information and other data that helps marketers paint a more complete picture of their clientele. Companies can then use this knowledge to fine-tune their sales approaches.

Of course, taking this approach requires knowing who to target, and to find this knowledge, companies need to begin with accurate information. Data quality is the engine that drives the entire e-commerce machine.