“Twas The Big Data Revolution Before Christmas…”

A guest post by Emily Orchard & Dale Weston from Public Health England

Whilst typically this time of year can be considered, for some, a time for relaxing and winding down, for one person it is the busiest time of the year. With the requirement to give beloved toys to all the good girls and boys around the world, Santa Claus certainly has his work cut out for him.  However, with a little help from some insights offered by the big data revolution, Santa and his elves may not need to work quite as hard as you might think.

Alongside the use of big data to inform healthcare policy decisions, as per the MIDAS platform, big data can also be used to provide insights into shopping preferences. For example, big data within the retail industry can provide businesses with information on what products people are buying, where they buy them, and even how people move through the store (NHPR, 2018); Walmart is estimated to create 2.5 petabytes of consumer data every hour (One petabyte is equivalent to 20 million traditional filing cabinets of text; McAfee & Brynjolfsson, 2012). This data collection can be beneficial to customers, providing personalised discount coupons, suggesting items they may be interested in, and improving store layouts (Martin, 2015).

From the point of view of retailers, the tracking of consumer behaviour can be used to encourage one time customers into repeat buyers (Akter and Fosso Wamba, 2016). Similarly, not only is big data providing insights on shopping behaviour, but it can also be used to tailor advertising through various types of audience targeting (e.g., targeting specific topics), and device targeting (e.g., whether individuals view content on their laptops, phones, etc.) (Google, 2019). Indeed, this year, Google has created a Christmas marketing cheat sheet, which uses data analytics to answer several key questions including: when shoppers typically buy presents and how they pick these, and which types of content or advertisements are most commonly viewed (Bertisen, 2019). Big data is, therefore, capable of providing hitherto unprecedented insights into shopping behaviour.

Given the importance of giving presents that everyone on the nice list will enjoy, Santa and his elves could draw on some insights and analytics provided by the kinds of consumer data detailed in the preceding paragraph. Indeed, with these data concerning consumer preferences and behaviour potentially combined with other open-source datasets (integrated using the MIDAS platform!), Santa may soon no longer require such out-dated techniques as house visits from Elves or letters to Santa to understand the Christmas wishes of everyone on the nice list.  

The implications of big data analysis for consumers, the retail industry, and, of course, Father Christmas, are clear. However, it is important to bear in mind the potential ethical and public acceptability concerns regarding the sharing and use of such data. Previous blog posts within MIDAS have considered debates around the sharing and use of data, the importance of ethical considerations in using large volume data, and public acceptability of data linkage and sharing. Furthermore, Work Package 2 within the MIDAS project is focused on identifying good practice with regards to data use, ethics, and privacy, among other issues. Thus, if Santa does wish to use integrated big data to revolutionise his processes, he would be well advised to consider insights from MIDAS Work Package 2, or even to conduct some public perceptions research using the MIDAS chatbot application.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

Akter, S., and Fosso Wamba, S. 2016. Big Data analytics in E-commerce: a systematic review and agenda for future research. Electronic Markets. 26(2): 173-194

Bertisen, M. 2019. Christmas Shopping Season 2019: Your Marketing Cheat Sheet. Google. Available from: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/marketing-resources/content-marketing/christmas-shopping-season-2019-your-marketing-cheat-sheet/

Google. 2019. Targeting your ads. Google. Available from: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/1704368?hl=en-GB

Martin, K.E. 2015. Ethical Issues in the Big Data Industry. MIS Quarterly Executive. 14(2):67-85  

McAfee, A., and Brynjolfsson, E. 2012. Big Data: The Management Revolution. Harvard Business Review. Available from: https://hbr.org/2012/10/big-data-the-management-revolution

NHPR. 2018. Tracking Shopping Habits Helps Retailers Compete. New Hampshire Public Radio. Available from: https://www.nhpr.org/post/tracking-shopping-habits-helps-retailers-compete#stream/0

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