Google, Zappos, Uber And Foursquare: How Consumer Data Drives Better Customer Experiences

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PSFKartGoogle, Zappos Labs, Foursquare and taxi-hailing app Uber talked about the trade-off of consumer data in exchange for better customer experiences during PSFK’s Future of Retail forum Thursday along the San Francisco marina.

Uber’s data evangelist, Bradley Voytek, kicked off the exchange with an anecdote about how when he started at Uber, the average wait for pick-up in San Francisco was 15 minutes. That wait time has since dropped to two minutes, which he credits to relational data that drives Uber’s algorithms.

By harnessing huge volumes of data, Uber is able to aggregate demand patterns and subsequent development strategy around findings like the nuances of pick-ups in financial districts in New York and San Francisco. “I always say, ‘I don’t need to know anything about anyone – I just have to know a whole lot about a lot of people,’” Voytek said. This, in turn, “helps you find relationships between disparate” points of data.

“You’re trading your location for convenience and an on-demand ride,” said Scott Lachut, head of research and strategy at PSFK Labs. “In the context of retail environments, we’re seeing systems that allow customers to freely trade their data [and share] their online behaviors in order to get something of value in return.”

For instance, Carrie Whitehead, product strategy and user experience manager at Zappos Labs, said the brand is using both first- and third-party data to suggest products based on customers’ Pinterest pins. “We learned that recommendations have to be super relevant,” Whitehead said. This specificity goes beyond the category level, down to the individual level.

As with Uber, Foursquare’s power is its location data. Its 4.5 billion check-ins enables the social network to develop ads products for retailers and brands looking for a geoconnection to customers, said Brian Williamson, Foursquare’s senior brand partner. Promoted Updates, Foursquare’s paid search product, surfaces ads to users when they’re in the geographic vicinity of a participating retail store.

“Location is the new cookie,” Williamson said.

In the case of Uber and similarly emergent commerce models, the “process,” said Avangate’s Michael Ni, is becoming a viable part of the “product” itself, allowing marketers to, in essence, “cherry-pick folks who are willing to pay for experience” in the new era of the purchase funnel.

Similarly, Google is eyeing ways to bring search, video and one-to-one experiences down to the individual level. In early November, Google introduced video consultation service Helpouts, which integrates with an array of Google products, including Wallet, to pay for the tutorials that cost money, Calendar for scheduling, Hangouts for video chat and Google+ for identity management (brand participation is by Google’s invite only).

“There will be a lot of applications that can leverage this type of technology,” said Google’s Katie Stratton, the company's new business development manager. “This is built for tablet, phone and laptop, but we do see this growing into integrations with applications like Glass.”

The takeaway from the day? Recognition of consumer actions across platform is critical to design, user experience and business monetization strategy. “In 2010, we talked about retail everywhere,” Lachut said. “It was an early stage … concept.” As connected devices and mobile turn traditional forms of media on their head, “there’s an opportunity now to take even a discovery phase and turn that into a purchase opportunity.”

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