It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a tumultuous year. People across the globe have had their lives turned upside down and have been forced to adapt to completely new ways of living and working. The world is unlikely to return to how it once was.

The same is true in the business world: 2020 has shaken up entire industries like never before. The changes are primarily driven by the lengthy global lockdowns that have forced previously reluctant consumer demographics (e.g., senior citizens) to go online. Many organizations have been left scrambling to adapt to these changes and to find ways to stay afloat in incredibly difficult circumstances.

However, this new reality has also shown that online data collection is providing opportunities for businesses to thrive in what has now become an increasingly digital world.

Online data collection – The next commodity

While the use of data to help make critical business decisions is nothing new, its role has taken on a newfound importance in recent months. The speed at which everything is now moving has made it harder for businesses to anticipate change and respond accordingly. This realization and shift have led to the increased commoditization of real-time, live data.

And, although businesses have traditionally planned for the future based on their own past and current data, many are realizing that this only tells half the story. Looking externally and collecting data from other sources is now vital to ensuring that businesses are in the best position to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

E-commerce is a prime example of an industry where online data collection is helping businesses gain a better understanding of their customers’ demands. In today’s world, retailers need frequent streams of real-time data from external sources to provide a snapshot of the market reality. This enables them to make better decisions around company strategy and direction, such as optimizing pricing based on what their competitors are charging for certain items. Online data collection can also help retailers stock the right products based on consumer preferences, test new products and understand how successful existing products are among their consumer base.

A similar shift has occurred in the finance sector, which is also booming in regard to online data collection as a result of recent market changes. Banks, financial institutions and investment firms are understanding that by having more relevant and faster streams of data, they will gain a more precise and comprehensive view of possible current and future investments. They will also gain on-the-spot intelligence to drive revenues, allocate loans and more.

Kickstarting data collection – The 3 guiding steps

So, what advice can we offer to those businesses that want to access the relevant live data insights that will enable them to prepare for even the most unexpected scenarios and market shifts?

First, remember that it’s never too early to start collecting data – in fact, the earlier the better. Smaller businesses often think that data collection is only for the bigger players, but companies of all sizes can benefit from actionable data insights. If you’re not sure, then start small. The key is to focus on clearly defined data requirements – identify the biggest business problem you want to solve and the specific data that will help solve it.

Second, get things going manually. Take the time to understand how the process works and what impacts consumers. Every decision counts in the current business environment, which means there’s no room for error. Starting manually will help you work out any early issues.

Finally, turn to automated data collection solutions to scale up. Data collection probably isn’t your core function, so let your employees focus on their jobs and have the data collected on your behalf. This provides all the benefits but with less work for your team and at a lower cost.

Ultimately, we know that no business can precisely predict the future. However, online data collection lets them come very close to doing so. By accessing external data insights to get a live, transparent and unbiased view of how customers are interacting with them and their competitors, businesses will put themselves in the best position to successfully navigate these uncertain waters and gain that all-important competitive edge, always.