As e-commerce has become the norm of doing business, and with the busy holiday shopping season breathing down retailers’ necks, when was the last time you – as a business owner – stopped to think about your business’ performance? Now, I’m sure you’re probably thinking ‘what are they talking about? I think about my business all the time.’
So when was the last time you thought of your business’ performance in light of the data you create, touch, and manipulate every day? Likely you don’t spend copious amounts of time losing sleep over a misplaced digit in a customer’s address – but maybe you should. Here’s why: Not thinking about your business’ data could be eating away at your profits without you even being aware of it.
Is your company’s data clean, or dirty? Do you even know? How does it affect your business? So we thought we would help you by telling you all about clean data and how it affects your e-commerce business: read on below.
‘Clean Data’ may be a term you’ve heard bandied about, but without much substance ‘clean data’ becomes just a trending buzzword. Your company’s cleanliness of data (or lack thereof) can be chipping away at profits, your success rates, and even your customer base – so what is it you can do to be smart-busy instead of just plain busy, or worse?
So you have this whole ecommerce thing figured out. Website? Check. Shopping cart integration? Check – but maybe not. Customers? Check. Shipping? Check. A mechanism in place to parse and validate your shipping addresses to ensure they are correct so you can avoid charge-back fees of anywhere between $6 to $11 per shipment? Che– wait, what?
Did you plan for clean data?
Let’s back up a step. There can’t be the idea of clean data without its opposite sibling, dirty data.
What is dirty data?
Some of the largest courier companies like FedEx and UPS continue to make changes to there shipping rules, as any business can and does tend to do. While these changes often mean great news for FedEx and UPS in terms of profitability and sustainability, those changes present new challenges for e-commerce SMBs.
One such change are the new “Dimensional Weight” rules – read more about this here, here and here – where shipping fees correlate with both size and weight of the package. Another change affecting how SMBs fair in the competitive ecommerce sphere is the silent creep upwards of courier charge-back fees.
Charge-backs go by a number of names depending on your preferred shipper, and are often buried deep within each courier’s shipping rules documents. These charge-back fees average $11.00 per incorrect shipping address. These fees jumped 183% from the previous $6.00 per incorrect shipping address (go here for more information, or to UPS’s or Fedex’s rate pages).
These incorrect shipping addresses can come from any number of sources: a customer forgetting where they live (it happens), a slip of a mouse click, an accidental keystroke, a transposition error… you name it, it can make your data incorrect and dirty. If your business isn’t set up to catch these errors when they happen and correct them, you’re leaving your business open to charge-back penalties.
No fear, because your customer will still receive their order from you; UPS, FedEx, will be more than happy to correct the incorrect address. The downside?: the charge-back of $11 per shipment, of course — but the courier who has the corrected address (the cleansed data) won’t give that clean address back to you, leaving you open to making the mistake again and again, incurring that $11 fine each time that customer re-orders.
Running a SMB e-commerce business is hard enough – how do you make your SMB smart-busy and avoid charge-backs?
There is an answer, and a simple one at that – cleansing your data. Undertaking this task yourself may feel daunting, especially if your core business value is shipping your goods to potentially thousands upon thousands of your customers. Finding that one wrong address that is costing you time, money, and patience may be like finding the metaphorical needle in the haystack.
How to get clean data without losing your mind: be smart-busy
The best recommendation is always to be smart-busy, or to maximize your time and its value by outsourcing key tasks like data cleansing to professionals. DOTS Address Validation by Service Objects (see below), one of VL’s partners will verify and correct US address data for an average of $0.01-$0.03.
Another key reason for outsourcing your data cleansing needs to the professionals is that data cleansing is an iterative process. New data is always being created, uploaded, or changed — and therefore requires maintenance. This ongoing work is best left up to those who excel at it, who have already solidified the efficiencies and work flows to achieving the highest quality clean data for you.
What should I look for in a data cleansing partner?
Choosing your data cleansing partner should be an educated decision, as it should be with choosing any partner. Looking for industry-standard certifications is always a good place to start. Here are some key certifications that you can look to for to help in making this decision:
- USPS Address Verification: The United States Postal Service maintains strict guidelines for mail delivery. If mail or shipments do not pass their tests, it will be returned – or even worse – be sent to the landfill as “Undeliverable-As-Addressed.” Rigorous, complete verification, standardization and cleansing should performed by any business that is engaging in ecommerce transactions and shipping merchandise. We find that using a service like DOTS Address Validation to perform real-time USPS Delivery Point Verification and address cleanup increases shipment delivery to real addresses.“With major shipping companies charging exorbitant penalty fees like $7 – $11 US/Canadian dollars each to fix and standardize an address before delivery, small businesses could lose both their wallets and their best customers this year during the holidays,” says Kathleen Rogers, Director of Engagement at Service Objects. “Plus, you don’t get back the new clean correct address and have to pay it the next time you ship as well!” With a service like our address verification, for just pennies we can correct, standardize, and give you back delivery point validation scores to help you ensure three things: Your customers’ packages arrive quickly and efficiently; the shipping address is valid and occupied thereby reducing loss of merchandise to fraud; and less of your packages come back as undeliverable, saving valuable operational resources and reshipping charges. Plus, the cleaned up address returned in the validation process which means that your database is clean. We see our clients that use DOTS Address Validation save thousands of dollars each year by using our service.”
- AddressComplete: Canada Post’s mirror to USPS’ CASS-Certification. An App that you can install directly into your ecommerce website, AddressComplete is an auto-complete function for addresses that verify in real-time. No more users accidentally inputting their incorrect mailing information, no more charge-backs! Canada Post has authorized AddressComplete resellers who can take the load off your shoulders in managing this application – VL is proud to be AddressComplete-certified!
Final thoughts on data cleansing
The cost of having crappy data as an ecommerce SMB is rising; it cannot be ignored in the highly competitive market of internet retailing. If you’re looking for a competitive edge, cost savings, efficiency, and more, address data cleansing is a must.
Hopefully data cleansing for your ecommerce business is now on your short list of to-dos in your journey to being smart-busy. But ideally, all of your business’ data should be cleansed — and regularly. This not only includes the address data that has been the focus of our blog, but can reach as far as your operational data, your CRM data, your analytics data, and more. Ultimately, all companies should strive to have clean data wherever data exists, as it promotes efficiency and efficacy and will save your company money in the end.
And remember – data cleansing is just one step along the road to being truly smart-busy. Fully integrating all of your systems to work seamlessly together so your SMB can be its best possible version of itself is always highly recommended, and VL is here to help.
Aim to be smart-busy – cleanse your data with Service Objects and VL!