This holiday, design your cloud for data

The challenge for online retailers is meeting consumer demands and battling intensifying competition. Cloud technology can help.

This holiday, design your cloud for data
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It’s that time of the year. Ready, set, shop. Whether it's an iPad, a new car or a big egg with a light-up bird inside—like this year’s Hatchimals—every holiday season is filled with the must-have gifts that send consumers into a shopping frenzy.

For retailers, the good news is consumers are in the mood to spend during the holiday season. The challenge is meeting consumer demands and battling intensifying competition.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects retail sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) to reach $655.8 billion. Online sales are forecasted to reach $117 billion this season. And, of course, Cyber Monday plays a huge role in online sales.

Cloud technology gives retailers an edge

With billions at stake this holiday season, how can retailers gain a competitive advantage while meeting growing consumer demands? Smart technology in the cloud. There is a tremendous digital transformation occurring in the retail industry. From bricks and mortars to ecommerce, retailers are embracing innovative technologies such as cloud and cognitive services to not only prepare for the holiday season, but as a strategy for efficiency, growth and to outthink the competition.

In a consumer-driven world, there is deluge of data. Organizations are looking to the cloud as a powerful engine to collect and interpret this data. The cloud also serves as a platform for cognitive capabilities. With the right cloud and cognitive approach, organizations can put their data to work finding unexpected insights that deliver business-changing results.

The power of data

How does this work for retailers? Most savvy retailers are collecting vast amounts of data from a number of sources, including web browsing patterns, social media, industry forecasts, and existing customer records to create tailored, more effective shopping experiences. With new IT offerings, retailers can design and tailor cloud platforms with predictive and cognitive analytics to predict trends, prepare for demand, pinpoint customers, optimize pricing and promotions, and monitor real-time results.

The catalog of cloud data services continues to grow and help retailers better manage and quickly interpret data for business innovation. Added services such as machine learning are incredibly powerful for effective data collaboration on the cloud. Machine learning as a service can intelligently and automatically build models from structured and unstructured data and open machine learning libraries while accelerating model deployment into business operations. For retailers, this heightens the ability to predict trends, forecast the demand for products, optimize pricing for a competitive edge, identify customers likely to be interested in them, and work out the best way to approach them.

+ Also on Network World: Holiday shopping goes high-tech: 3 trends retailers have adopted +

For example, one major retailer is taking advantage of cloud-powered cognitive computing to transform its customer experience from transactional to personal. To help customers find the perfect gift, they worked with IBM to create an interactive online shopping experience. Customers now receive tailored recommendations on the best outdoor gear for all kinds of activities via an intuitive, dialog-based recommendation engine that refines product selections based on analysis of their responses to questions.

Now, when a shopper enters details about an upcoming activity they have planned, the system asks questions about factors, such as dates or gender, and analyzes that data to give a recommendation to meet the customer's specific activity and climate needs for that time of year. The offering has transformed the retailer’s online shopping experience to give consumers a visit and personalized purchase unlike any competitive retailers’ sites.

Cloud-based data services go beyond old performance barriers, infusing cognitive capabilities and enabling retailers to rapidly ingest, interpret and analyze massive amounts of data. Just as consumers can easily access a variety of apps on their smartphones, retailers can tap into the rich capabilities of their data to get prepped and ready for the rush of consumers looking for the perfect gifts.

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