Aran Seaman on using big data: “Now, we can do stuff that’s similar to what Amazon is doing.” Photo: Ben Nelms Aran Seaman on using big data: “Now, we can do stuff that’s similar to what Amazon is doing.” Photo: Ben Nelms

When it comes to hard-nosed business practices like customer segmentation,, a Vancouver-based online retailer of environmentally friendly products, isn’t exactly green around the gills. “We learned a long time ago that we needed to have a better idea of our customer base,” says managing partner Aran Seaman.

Eartheasy got into e-commerce back in 2008 and soon grew concerned that its generic email blasts and other direct-marketing forays were missing the mark. Unlike mass merchandisers and online giants like Amazon, the company didn’t have systems to track key metrics such as the lifetime value of a customer and individual preferences based on previous purchases. And, Seaman says, the firm couldn’t find e-commerce consultants who would do this type of analysis at an affordable cost for a small enterprise.

Analyzing online metrics has helped one etailer more than double click-throughs.

Then, last year, Eartheasy retained Canopy Labs, an upstart Toronto firm that is carving out a niche by offering to produce big data-style analytics for small businesses.

Canopy specializes in consolidating a company’s disparate data pools—from e-commerce transactions and web-traffic logs to email newsletter lists and click-throughs—and crunching the information to reveal patterns.

This kind of detailed data analysis has typically been reserved for big-pocketed big business. In recent years, multinationals have developed highly effective techniques for culling insights from the waves of transactional information flowing over the commercial transom, as well as the ever-widening array of online sources, such as Facebook. Armed with analyses of customers’ past purchases, companies have been able to develop precisely targeted marketing. According to McKinsey & Co. research, firms that base their marketing and sales initiatives on data analysis boost the return on those investments by 15 to 20%.

Learn how one B.C. company os using big data to disrupt its industry

The software tools and expertise needed to do such analyses have been out of reach for most SMEs, but that market gap appears to be closing. Since signing on with Canopy, Eartheasy has been better able to track conversion rates by cross-referencing data on opened emails, click-through patterns and actual purchases, says Seaman. The company can get reports on what specific customer groups tend to buy and then use those findings to send out more product-specific email promotions. As a result, the email-opening rate has jumped from 20% to more than 30%; click-through frequency, in turn, has grown from 4% to more than 10%. “Now, we can do stuff that’s similar to what Amazon is doing,” adds Seaman.

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