The Technology Revolution and Lessons Learned

Mike Miller, CEO, Better World Books
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Better World Books is a for-profit social enterprise and a global e-retailer providing products and information to socially conscious consumers. Better World Books collects and sells new and used books online matching each purchase with a donation, book for book™, and with each sale generating funds for literacy, library, and education initiatives in the U.S. and around the world.

Retail: A competitive Landscape

Retailers are challenged by an intense competitive landscape which has exploded online. Consumers have a glut of options which has changed the buyer’s journey to decision-making. They do considerably more research causing a longer purchase cycle, come more informed when making a purchase decision, and become greater brand advocates when the retailer delivers an experience in line with their values.

Consumers desperately seek content they can trust. They look at validated sources and peer generated content along side of company branded content. It’s important retailers understand and analyze the information consumers are using to base their choices on to know what they value most. Business intelligence and analytics will help inform a company’s core operations and e-commerce decisions to keep up with consumer evolution and technology revolution because change is the norm.

Big Data and Analytics: Way of the Future

When it comes to reporting and analytics there are so many new BI and analytics tools that are in beta, coming out, or maturing in the past year. From SnowFlake, PowerBI, Redshift, Periscope, and Looker to name a few, the market is flooded. No longer do you need to run jobs over an extended period of time to crunch data or create your analysis cubes. You can offload all of your meaningful data securely to Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) systems in the cloud and get results in times unheard of just a few years ago. The ability to react to your own data has never been faster. But most retailers and e-commerce companies are not using big data and analytics to make their decisions due to the complexity and costs of getting it implemented. There is a lack of understanding in how big data should be used and given the fact that most companies struggle with basic reporting tools it is easy to understand why analytics might seem overwhelming. Analytics is the way of the future and if retailers refuse to make the change, they will struggle to be competitive.

An option for some is building a foundation of micro services that different segments can tap into. If the foundation is in place, then B2C, B2B, mobile, retail, can all tap into the same data and decision making ability.

"The majority of companies will have 90 percent of their infrastructure cloud based in 6-8 years".

For companies like ourselves who work with razor thin margins, moving from basic reporting tools to big data and analytics is critical. We’ve had to improve our forecasting accuracy to save millions of dollars in inventory costs and improved pricing which helps generate more profit through increased inventory turns. At Better World Books, we’re a data-driven company. At any given moment, we price and manage more than 6 million unique SKUs across 50+ e-commerce marketplaces including our sites in the US and internationally. We source upwards of 1 million or more books per week from over 5,000 suppliers in our supply chain. Not only do we track and report on every book we receive, but we report sales data, donation data and environmental impact data back to our suppliers. In addition, we’re committed to donating a book for every book sold through www.betterworldbooks.com (and www.betterworldbooks.co.uk) as well as fund literacy, libraries and education initiatives for every books sold across all marketplaces. The spider web of integration required to operate lean is staggering and demands we face our future.

The Impact of the Cloud

When you consider your core operations and infrastructure, cloud is all everyone talks about these days. I can’t emphasize enough how impactful moving key pieces of our infrastructure to the cloud in the last year has meant to us. I would guess that the majority of companies will have 90% of their infrastructure cloud based in 6-8 years. You don’t want to worry if a hard drive fails or care about how fault tolerant your large CAPEX purchase is. Instead, focus your IT team on what you learned through BI and analytics that distinguishes you from your competition and better aligns you with what your customer values most.

Mobility driving our future

The obvious technology making a significant impact on e-commerce is mobile. The marriage of content and access to it 24/7 for nearly two-thirds of Americans who use their smart phone to be informed and stay connected is driving our future. The mobile phone has essentially taken the place of the shopping mall. Retailers now have to get creative on how they attract consumers and need to discover how to best deliver a mobile-friendly experience. This requires an understanding of how consumers are digesting your content and integrating that with 3rd-party content and peer reviews that’s mobile worthy. This also requires a shift in marketing spend. Delivering customized experiences to consumers based on their preferences is no longer an innovation but an expectation.

When it comes to steering technology for Better World Books I’ve learned:

1. Ensure you get integrated perspective during your due diligence phase.
2. Consider your customer’s needs over your competitor’s capabilities.
3. Don’t be paralyzed by your BI options - let your fear inform, not decide.
4. Hire smart people and get out of their way.

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