Belfast Telegraph

Rory Curtis: Data is key to success for retailers in the future

Online retailers must embrace machine learning
Online retailers must embrace machine learning

By Rory Curtis, co-founder of Gradient Edge

Things change fast in digital commerce. While many retailers struggle to keep pace with current technology, there's already a new wave upon us.

Data combined with machine learning has the potential to completely transform online experiences and better inform business decisions.

In layman's terms, machines 'learn' to make predictions from your data without being told how to do so. This technology is being used in many industries today, producing real value and its adoption is continuing to soar.

Dig beneath the surface of today's tech giants and machine learning is used extensively for a variety of use cases.  

For example, every search query at Airbnb is driven or informed by machine learning. Millions of predictions are being made per second at Uber and Netflix is using machine learning on a large scale to predict what you want to watch.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others all dedicate vast resources to their own AI initiatives and Amazon are obviously well ahead of the curve in the retail sector.

The next decade and beyond will be dominated by companies like those - ie the ones who make the best possible use of their data.

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Online retailers will need to adopt that model. Their future will be to constantly experiment and learn about what works best for each individual customer and to tailor the shopping experience for each user accordingly, across every possible touchpoint.

The next generation of digital commerce will be all about getting the most relevant products and content in front of each user at exactly the right time.

In a sense, the shopping experience will mould itself around the customer. It's sensitive to their demands and adapts as their needs change over time.

A mix of sophisticated algorithms, along with human creativity, is required to drive these next-generation digital commerce experiences.

The algorithms sift through vast amounts of historical and real-time data, surfacing insights and predictions.

People in all parts of the business will use these insights to guide their decisions.

In order to achieve this, retailers need to take a long term view of how data science, commerce and content are seamlessly integrated and used together.

The good news is that retailers typically have the necessary data available, however, they're just not making the best use of it.

The first step for them is to simply recognise that company data is a key asset, which can be used to differentiate you from your competitors.

With this in mind, what do the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Airbnb have in common? None of them are offloading their data to third parties to get a recommendation back or customer segmentation information for example.

They realise the value in their data and are making the best use of it internally. We believe that's the model for success long term. Your data.

Your algorithms. Your future.

Machine learning isn't a silver bullet that's going to solve all your problems, but it is being deployed to great success at some of the largest retailers on the planet right now.

It's giving them insights into their business in a way they couldn't have imagined just a few years ago.

As this becomes the new normal for online retail over the coming years, the organisations that succeed and thrive will be the ones that put data science at the heart of everything they do.

  • Gradient Edge develop products and provide expert consulting services to enable modern digital commerce and data-driven experiences. To find out more information, visit:

Belfast Telegraph