Choosing the right business intelligence solution for your online shop: a checklist


Choosing a business intelligence solution is not a simple task, as many different factors should be considered. In order to help, we created a checklist of questions you should ask when evaluating different business intelligence options for your online shop.

Your strategic needs:

Fast growing online businesses need to be lean, fast and able to experiment. The right solution will therefore be cost effective, quick to implement and flexible enough to embrace business changes. These needs reflect on a series of questions you should ask:

  1. Costs: Does the solution have upfront costs? Are there any maintenance or support costs? Traditional BI suites require high initial investments which can be a problem for SMEs. A more cash-flow friendly approach is offered by software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions with no upfront costs and a subscription model.
  1. Time: How much time is required for implementation? Traditional BI vendors and self-built solutions require months from consulting, to customization, to the actual implementation. Modern solutions can minimize implementation time to less than a day.
  1. Time: How much time is required to learn how to use the platform? To provide a return on investment in short time, business users need to be able to start working comfortably with minimal training.
  1. Expertise: Do business users need specific analytical knowledge to use the solution? If the solution requires specific analytical know-how, it might hinder company-wide adoption and the creation of a data driven culture. It is crucial that the entire organization works on the same platform, in order to have one single source of truth. This also ensures alignment across the whole firm on the goals and metrics to follow.
  1. Expertise: How much know-how is required from technical users? Does it rely on IT for setup, maintenance, or ongoing use? One of the advantages of outsourcing a BI solution is to relieve the burden of implementation, maintenance and ongoing use to in-house IT. More than often, it is not IT’s core competency to manage and perform database queries, and this bottleneck can slow down times-to-insight or hinder insights completely.
  1. Flexibility: Can the solution scale as the company and data grow? As the business grows, more data is going to be produced, and your BI solution must be able to quickly adapt. Adding a new data source can multiply the amount of data over night. Choose a solution which is big data ready and future-proof.
  1. Flexibility: Can new data sources be added easily? The most important data sources for eCommerce websites are shop databases, web tracking tools, marketing platforms and email providers. Make sure you can connect all important data sources with minimal effort and that new data sources, for example Excel spreadsheets, can be easily added. 
  1. Flexibility: How easily can I access the data? Make sure that every employee can access the tool easy. Proprietary software you need to install on a computer or server can cause compatibility issues. A browser based solution can solve this problem and also allow for mobile use.
  1. Focus: Are the vendor and the solution ecommerce focused? Traditional BI solutions have been developed with multiple industries and use cases in mind. The optimal solution should focus on your specific need as an online business. This ensures a tailored product, pertinent support and know how, and focused product development. Ask potential vendors eCommerce specific questions and evaluate how well they can answer.
  1. Is the solution compliant with the local data privacy law? Europe, in particular, has strict rules for personal data storage and use, so this is a good benchmark to adjust your organizational and technical processes.
  1. Support: Does the solution offer support? If so, how much does it cost? Depending on the solution, support and consultancy fees can become a considerable economic burden. Your solution should offer free support and consultancy, pertinent to your industry.
  1. Try before you buy: Can I try the software with my own data before I buy? A serious vendor will give you the chance to test the solution with your own data before signing a contract.

Your analysis needs:

  1. Can I track and analyze every important department and KPI for my company? Make a list of KPIs and insights you want to gain for every department and make sure everything is covered.
  1. Is global filtering possible? Only if you are able to filter your reports globally you can be sure it is possible to perform complex data exploration. Exploration should be intuitive, and your solution should allow you to playfully explore your dataset even without a data scientist’s know-how.
  1. Can I view or export my data with maximum granularity? Can I track customers at user level? Your solution should not stop at top-level metrics, but offer maximum granularity. Web tracking tools like Google Analytics don’t allow you to collect and access data at maximum granularity due to sampling issues. Your solution should be able to do so.
  1. Does the solution offer a professional attribution model? When evaluating online marketing activities, it is important to use advanced attribution models to assign credit for sales to multiple touch points and not only the first interaction with the customer.
  1. Can the tool calculate contribution margins including payment and logistic costs? Contribution margins are one of the most important metrics for any business, as they show how the company is performing on a unit level. Don’t skip on this option.
  1. Can I perform cohort analysis? Cohort analysis will give you insights on trends over time and how different customer groups perform.

To sum up

The table summarizes the requirements we have seen so far. Click to enlarge or download a pdf copy.

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