How online auction site Trade Me is turning data into gold

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 01 September 2016
How online auction site Trade Me is turning data into gold

With 3.7 million active members generating 60% of the web traffic originating from New Zealand, Trade Me is today the country’s largest online classifieds and auction site featuring everything from trinkets to houses.

Having grown at an astounding rate since it opened for business in 1999, the company has expanded its staff strength from 50 to approximately 500. As it continues to expand its service offerings, the company now generates a huge amount of data on its users.

However, turning all the various set of numbers into something actionable requires not just the latest data analytics tools but also a culture of people willing and able to take advantage of data.

About two years ago, Trade Me decided to create a small two-person specialised business intelligence (BI) team to make better sense of the data and encourage its use among staff. This BI team is now spearheading the development of analytics models to provide insights into Trade Me’s business.

Transforming raw data – the new “gold” in the digital economy – into useful business insights has led to important decisions being made at Trade Me.

Increasingly, forward-looking companies such as Trade Me look at data as an incredibly valuable asset for organizations to understanding customers, the market, and growth spots.

A 2014 IDC study identified “financial and productivity benefits directly linked to better data-driven decision making.” These benefits represented a US$1.6 trillion opportunity over the next four years for organisations that maximise the value from data. That ‘data dividend’ is 6% more than companies can expect if they aren’t getting the most value from their data.

Today at Trade Me, product managers and business analysts responsible for various segments of the business now get a better sense of the performance of each unit. These insights are critical to answering daily questions such as how many sales transactions and new listings are there in a week? How many users are using the site at a certain time? And how do people engage with the Trade Me app on a mobile device, while on the go? Have they put more items on a watch list?

These insights, available at the fingertips of managers who need them, enable them to take action and boost particular segments where needed. They also provide a way to make actionable decisions based on real-time data insights, instead of going merely by gut feel.

Philip Seamark, senior business intelligence architect at Trade Me, said: “With an ingrained data culture, we make decisions with a clear goal of maximising the chances of a positive business outcome. One goal of our data journey is to increase profitability, which means we need to help our staff make the best possible business decisions at the right time.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.

“One of Trade Me’s core company values is to ‘decide and act on merit’, so we take the task of using this data in a meaningful but responsible way seriously. For an online classifieds and auction website, it is important for our managers not only to have a view of historical customer activity, but also to be able to predict customer needs to keep the website constantly relevant.”

To fully harness data, Trade Me has invested in building an analytical workforce, where talents have the ability to ask the right questions, analyse data and drive actionable insights. This is an important attribute of a company with a successful data culture.

84% of business leaders in Asia agree that it is important to have a data-savvy workforce, one that is aligned, equipped and trained to extract value from data, according to the Microsoft Asia Data Culture Study released in May 2016. However, only 42% of those polled felt that they have employees who have relevant skills to analyse and identify new business outcomes.

This was what Trade Me sought to address as well. Before they set up the BI team, there was no direct management of data flows. The effort was ad hoc because the company was much smaller in the past.

Today, with all 500 employees both creating and using data, Trade Me’s user data has to be managed and curated to ensure a single source of truth. A seemingly mundane process, this means finding the various sets of data from different sources and reconciling them to make sense of it. Even something as simple as an address can take time to confirm and correct, if there are conflicting versions of it.

Read more about the implementation here.


News, Retail, Big data

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