It’s that time of year again. Internet Retailing Expo (IRX) is one of my favourite ecommerce events. Taking place at the NEC in Birmingham, over March 21 and 22, IRX is an opportunity to about the latest online retail trends in high definition.

This year, the conference programme will examine personalisation, customer experience, GDPR, analytics and cryptocurrency payments. In ecommerce, there is rarely time to catch a breath from all the opportunities and challenges on the table.

But one of the biggest topics likely to be discussed at IRX 2018 is data – specifically, data quality. Because the historic computer science aphorism “garbage in, garbage out” is truer than ever.

For internet retailers, what is the worst-case manifestation of a “garbage” output? Nothing less than having a mistake somewhere in a customer’s order, of course. And what is the critical piece of data required to ensure an order is fulfilled correctly. A postal address.

That is why accurate address data is key to fulfilling a package and, by implication, your promise to your customers.

When we at PCA Predict recently commissioned a survey of more than 300 retailers on this topic, we were disappointed to find many fall victim. It turns out 5.6% of UK online order deliveries fail at their first attempt.

Worse, 73% of UK consumers report their orders have been delayed or not delivered at all – more than customers in other global markets we surveyed.

Delivery failure results in missed packages, enforced collections from other locations, calls to the retailer and, ultimately, disgruntled consumers – all of which lead to increased costs.

What is the cause? Whilst customers mostly tend to point the finger of blame at retailers or deliverers, the awkward truth is that, more often than not, consumers can also sometimes enter the wrong delivery address too.

We all commit typos. But, whilst, in a word processor, a spellcheck can cover a multitude of sins, in ecommerce, its absence can lead to errors.

Companies can try to minimise the chance of incorrect data entry by encouraging integrity at the address-entering stage, or even afterwards.

In our survey customers reported problems with retailers’ checkouts including failure to recognise address formats, absence of their address from dropdown lists and text fields being too short to fit their address.

Fixing them can be a problem when you already have infrastructure that you are committed to. Even moving form fields around or switching data schema can be a pain, when you have a legacy database already saved in one method.

That is why address verification technology – checking an address against a known database of valid options, or otherwise reformatting data entry boxes to guarantee valid submissions – is increasingly being deployed by online retailers.

But address verification is actually much more than the technology it offers. For the consumer it eliminates their biggest frustration when shopping via a smartphones: inputting correct information. For businesses it saves time, money and can actually positively impact upon customer conversions.

However, while a majority of retailers now run address verification in a bid to solve the delivery failure problem, but when that verification is levied it can make a big difference to outcomes. For instance, 12% of businesses we surveyed hand off address accuracy checks to a delivery firm.

Given the risks I’ve detailed, the integrity of customer delivery details at the point of order is critical so that a retailer is not left open to delivery failure, reputational harm and the soaring cost of redelivery.

Data is not going away – today, it is the fuel which keeps all our businesses going. But what I am most looking forward to sharing with IRX attendees is this – inaccurate data is worse than no data at all.