Retailers collect massive amounts of customer data, but it’s only useful if it is accurate. Here’s how to clean it up.

Courtney Cunnane, Experian Data Quality

Courtney Cunnane, vice president of marketing, Experian Data Quality

Retailers collect a lot of consumer data across the course of the year and may not clean that data upon entry or do anything with it for a while apart from general operations. However, many of us are starting to think about the impending holiday season and that means we look to our data for more answers. Retailers start leveraging their data at this point in the year to spot trends over the last holiday season, determine inventory and stock, understand customer purchasing trends and much more. They often realize that their data may have flaws or errors that were entered during the process of creating an account or collecting information at the point of sale.

This makes it the perfect time to sort through that data and determine its accuracy before you use it to make important decisions. According to a recent Experian Data Quality study, less than half of retailers trust their data to make important business decisions. In fact, retailers estimate that about 25 percent of their current customer or prospect data is inaccurate in some way.

That lack of accuracy leads to unnecessary challenges for retailers. First, bad data can affect your ability to communicate with your customers effectively through core channels, like email or mobile.  But more importantly, it can lead to disjointed accounts and incomplete customer records. Many of the retailers we speak with want to be data-driven and have a firm understanding of their customer, but they struggle to create a single customer view and consolidate their customer information across channels. That lack of customer insight can hurt analytics and limit your ability to customize and tailor messages to your key customers.

Less than half of retailers trust their data to make important business decisions.

It is important for retailers to get their data into shape. Here are few tips on simple ways you can get your data ready now to make sure you are understanding your customers and effectively communicating with them as the holiday season approaches.

  1. Start with an assessment of your data

Any time you go to fix something, you first have to identify the problem you’re trying to solve. The same is true with your data. We often see that retailers know what’s going on with their customer email data from bounce records, but they may not be aware of date errors, spelling mistakes, or geographic information that might have been entered into the wrong field. By profiling and analyzing data, retailers can get a broad spectrum of insight to understand what is wrong and what can be trusted. Then you can get a full view of what needs to be corrected.

  1. Determine what will have the biggest impact

Chances are, you’re going to find a number of errors with your data during that profiling process. Depending on your resources and the ability to make automatic updates, you’ll likely need to prioritize what you fix first. While there will be some low-hanging fruit that can be corrected quickly, it is important to focus on the changes are going to have the biggest impact on your business. Look at how the inaccurate data is currently affecting you. For instance, if you have a significant amount of bad email addresses and email is your most important channel of communication, you might want to take steps to fix that data first. If your mobile number data also needs attention, but you only use that to reach out to customers for support issues, you can probably correct this at a later stage. Each retailer will be unique in their priorities and resource availability, so be prepared to figure out what works best for your business rather than just relying on an industry standard.

  1. Contact data is a good place to start

Contact data is essential to most retailers. It can be a unique identifier when consolidating data across channels and it is key to communicating with customers long after they leave a store or website. Customer contact data can be standardized, so it is easy to format and many errors can be readily corrected. Starting with this information can typically have a big impact on your business and provide a quick win for any data improvement project.

  1. Find a way to link data across channels and databases

I mentioned earlier that creating a single view of the customer is hugely important to retailers. In order to do that, data often has to cross many different channels and systems, making data unification very difficult. Some retailers are opting to implement data lakes and move all data into a central place. While that can be helpful, if the data is not clean and consolidated, this type of project can quickly create an even bigger mess.
Another alternative is using an analytics or data preparation tool to link various data sources and gain insights without actually moving any of the data. These tools are newer in the space, but they can be a nice alternative depending on the level of insight you are looking for. Regardless, it is important to consider your customer data across all channels, rather than just looking at data in individual silos.

Data is an integral part of any retailer’s business given the high demands from consumers for digital channels and personalization. But we have a problem: Most data that retailers hold has errors. Those errors lead to poor decisions and more importantly, issues with the customer experience.


Take time to clean up your data and establish trusted data sources. Putting the work in now to clean up your data will pay off when you’re able to leverage meaningful insights to improve your customer’s experience—and earn a greater share of their wallet.

Experian Data Quality, part of Experian plc, provides data quality tools in such areas as data cleansing, matching, standardization, enrichment and monitoring.