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GDC Onboards France’s Best In-Country Data Provider

This week at GDC we’re thrilled to add a new partner from France, bringing the best in-country data solutions for French address verification. This is an important addition for us; at 62 billion dollars in eCommerce sales, France is the sixth largest eCommerce market worldwide. On top of that France is a wired culture, and nearly 89% of the country’s internet users are shopping online, with individual purchase rates going up. From both a local and global perspective, France is an important player in the market and eCommerce companies need to have a reliable solution when it comes to French data.

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But the value of having our best in-country data provider goes beyond just meeting the market. When it comes to culture, French consumers place a high value on service quality. A DPD survey of online commerce habits showed that one in five deliveries in France was problematic, and 49% of the time this was because the delivery was late. They go on to show that French consumers overwhelmingly (84%) prefer things delivered directly to their home, rather than to post offices or other pick up sites.

 

eCommerce companies recognize the implications in this. They want to be able to attract new customers in France by offering convenient, on-time door deliveries. They also want to retain customers by making sure that they can follow through on that promise. After all, nearly 70% of customers said they wouldn’t buy again from a website that didn’t deliver on time.

 

This is a challenge in France. Delivering to secluded cottages in Champagné can be just as difficult as delivering to a one-room apartment off of la République in Paris because of how address information is used and changed. Generic data, which might be managed anywhere in the world, is never going to be able to effectively keep up with the dynamics of French society. That’s where our local data solution can provide the most ‘lift’.

 

The Dynamic French Landscape

 

Last spring, I visited a friend in Paris while checking up on some of our local European providers and I needed a couple of books. They happened to be on Amazon.fr, and I asked for the building’s address so I could get them delivered to me while I was there. My friend told me that it was better to send them somewhere else, since most of the packages for that apartment had never showed up at all.

 

Being in this business, I got interested and dug a bit deeper. The apartment did not have a number, which is common, and that the name used for deliveries was of a prior leaser, not my friend’s name, which is also common. The process of updating address and identity information with La Poste, the French postal service, can be prohibitive and so data can often be left outdated. In this case, the “address” of the apartment was under the name of a woman who had been leasing it 4 years ago. It’s like if I wanted to send something there, I would have to know the history of the apartment ownership to do it.

 

The reality of these deliveries is that the package might show up at the right building, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. It might end up at the right apartment, it might end up at another apartment, or it might not get delivered at all. In the end, I sent the delivery to an office in town that said they had no problems with deliveries. But if I had wanted to send it to that apartment, I would have had to write several names down on the package to get it to the right place. Depending on how that package changed hands it might still have gotten misplaced.

 

Local Data Knowledge as a Solution

 

This is obviously not the optimal way to do things, and that’s where GDC’s unique approach to address verification comes in. When we set out to solve this problem, it was apparent to us that generic datasets can be useful but are inherently problematic. They aren’t managed by people that understand the context of the data and they can often go without updates. At GDC, our team fans out across the globe to find the best LOCAL providers of knowledge, and then puts those companies through rigorous testing to make sure that their data is up to scratch. The result is what we call the ‘intelligent stack’. We take an address and redirect it to the best in-country data source in our consortium.

 

The results of using these local data sources are impressive, and our new partner in France is a powerful example of this. They combine data from marketing databases and private commercial sources that has coverage all across France and can have better resolution than other datasets. Our partner is also updating this data constantly, receiving information from sources constantly and applying address and verification rule changes at least once a month.

 

This kind of data and refresh rate prevents problems like the one I had in Paris, and can improve delivery reliability overall. Companies know this is critical to the French market, and they know just how fickle consumers can be if deliveries aren’t right the first time. It’s a survival need, and for a dynamic like France, generic data just doesn’t cut it. Businesses need local data for France, and with our newest French partner, we are pleased to deliver for our Worldview customers. If you are looking for a more reliable solution to delivering in France, or anywhere else in the world, please give me a call. We’d love to help expand your worldview.

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Making Local Intelligence a Reality in Global Address Verification

I recently published an open letter to the address verification industry, a group to which I’ve belonged professionally for over 20 years. In it, I critiqued our lack of innovation over the years and suggested another way: making global address verification better by using local intelligence.

As hoped, the letter spurred a lot of interesting dialogue. In hopes to keep the conversation going, I’m posting a series of blog entries that dig deeper into the themes of technology, address data and how we can meet the needs of our most demanding customers.

Part I: History Lessons

Part II: A Fateful Trip to Brazil and My “Eureka!” Moment

Part III: Making Local Intelligence a Reality in Global Address Verification

In 2010, on a long plane ride back from Brazil, my mind was racing with ideas. Two years prior, an eCommerce executive had challenged me (read that story here) to solve the last mile problem of global address verification. In his world, every package had to be delivered and as quickly as possible. He couldn’t afford to ship to bad addresses, but existing global address verification systems weren’t reliable enough. They depended too much on local delivery intelligence to fix address mistakes. His criticism stung because I was COO of one of those businesses, but I knew he was right.

I had gone to Brazil to ask its postal operator, Correios, to give my company an update to its address database. That had not worked, but in a stroke of serendipity, I met the owner of a business that maintained more complete address data than Correios and that refreshed its addresses constantly. (See that story here.)

This was exactly what the eCommerce executive had been asking for! And if it existed in Brazil, there must be similar services in other countries. I began talking with my colleague (and eventual co-founder) about creating a better global address verification system; one that used the local intelligence of best in-country sources of data; one that kept up with the constant changes of addresses by constantly refreshing its data. If we could build access to a network of these data sources, we could create an entirely new (and more reliable) model for global address verification.

If we could build something that met the lofty requirements of eCommerce, where every package counts and there’s no margin of error for bad addresses, we could also help the companies on which the eCommerce industry leans for help (logistics, fulfillment and delivery). We could help data cleansing services that need more reliable results than the older global address systems provided. Perhaps we could even help software companies that do mapping and navigation based on addresses.

I began sketching the blueprint for a company based on these ideas. It would be complicated, no doubt. We would have to…

  1. Identify the Right Partners and Build Relationships

Just as the best address provider in Brazil had been hard to find (really, there was no small element of luck that I met him on that trip!), so would its counterparts in other countries. I would have to rely heavily on my network of friends in the address data industry to identify the right partners.

And I would need to keep my passport up-to-date…this would not be a job I could do while sitting behind a desk. I was going to need to spend a lot of time traveling to meet data providers, vetting them face-to-face to establish trust and to feel confident they play by all the right rules in collecting and sharing their data.

  1. Test to Verify

Most data providers say they’re the best, so frequent testing was going to be critical to finding the actual best in-country partners. We would need to create clear testing parameters to demonstrate these companies provided more reliable address results than postal operators.

  1. Build Sophisticated Technology

Finally (and it almost seems funny that this comes third), we would have to invest in a robust cloud-based technology platform for integrating with our data partners and providing our customers with a single place to access the world’s best address data. This would be the only way to take full advantage of their refresh cycles (the feedback loops that keeps their address data current).

This was the basic blueprint, and later that year my partner Charles and I formed the Global Data Consortium. In the five years since, we’ve been executing on the plan, step-by-step. I flew around the world finding the best data providers for key countries. I developed friendships that turned into trusted partnerships. We tested everyone’s data to verify its quality and reliability. And we developed the GDC Worldview product – an API management engine and data validation platform – to provide our customers a single point of access to the world’s most reliable address data.

We’ve come a long way since Brazil! Worldview now has over 30 countries covered by best in-country partners, and we’re adding up to four new ones each month.

It’s a solid start, and we keep investing in Worldview to make it better for our existing customers and anyone for whom the old global address systems just aren’t good enough.

Here’s my challenge to consumers of global address verification services: If you’ve found that the generic systems aren’t providing the results you want; if bad address information is leading to mis-delivery or slow delivery; if your service isn’t formatting addresses in the way your global customers expect to see them…there’s no reason to be captive to “good enough.” You can do better.

If that describes you, let’s talk. Let’s set up a test to see how our best in-country data partners use their local intelligence to fix problems before a package ever ships.

Let us improve your world view.

Next: My final thoughts in this blog series…The innovator’s dilemma and predicting the future of the global address verification industry.

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Local Intelligence in Global Address Verification: History Lessons

I recently published an open letter to the address verification industry, a group to which I’ve belonged professionally for over 20 years. In it, I critiqued our lack of innovation over the years and suggested another way: making global address verification better by using local intelligence.

As hoped, the letter spurred a lot of interesting dialogue. In hopes to keep the conversation going, I’m posting a series of blog entries that dig deeper into the themes of technology, address data and how we can meet the needs of our most demanding customers.

History Lessons

Let’s start with some of the history that made me aware of the problems we have in the address verification industry.

In 2008 I received a call from an executive with a prominent eCommerce company. He had been piloting a cross-border initiative in which customers from other countries could order from his website and he would ship their products directly from a U.S. distribution facility.

The experiment was not going well, he told me. Deliveries were getting lost, shipped back, or just taking longer to arrive than he (or the customer) expected. The problems stemmed from addresses. “Could you help me?” he asked.

I had worked in the address data industry for 15 years at that point and was currently Chief Operating Officer for a leading provider of generic global address verification services. We had accumulated a massive database of addresses which we licensed mostly from national postal operators. It covered 240 countries and territories. We solved the very problems the eCommerce executive was describing. Or at least we thought we did.

I asked him to send me some address files, and I’d have my team run them against our database.

When the results came back, I was pleased. We had cleaned up his files nicely and our analysis said he could confidently ship his packages to nearly every address. But when I called him back to share what I thought was good news, he just sighed.

“No, this won’t do at all,” he told me. “You’re quick to tell me to ship, but I happen to know these addresses are incomplete. You’re asking me to put my packages into the postal stream and trust that the local infrastructure to do the dirty work to get it delivered.”

He had conducted the same test with other “generic” global address services, and they all came back the same. As hard as I tried, I didn’t have a good response to his points.

“When you figure out how to solve that last mile problem before I ship,” he concluded, “give me a call. But for now what you have just isn’t good enough.”

His criticism stung, but it wasn’t entirely unfair or inaccurate. Since the dawn of our industry in the 1960’s, we global generic address companies had struck a Faustian bargain with our primary customers – direct mail businesses and the vendors that provided them support. If we could supply them a good enough service for a cheap enough price, the bargain went, they would license our address data. But if we raised the price for any reason, they would just stop using us.

It sounded brutal (and it was), but it made sense for the problem they wanted us to help solve. They sent mailers en masse. These were inexpensive cards and envelopes that often went out in batches of many thousands at a time. It often didn’t matter if some percent of them didn’t get delivered. It was a volume game with everyone operating on tiny margins. Our job was not to get every envelope delivered. It was more of an actuarial calculation: if they could use us to cull out some small percentage of the bad addresses, the pennies they spent on us would save them at least that much in postage costs.

And then we had our dirty secret: our False-Positive Bias. If we could verify an address to a locality level, confirming, for example, that the street existed even if the number was wrong – we would call the result reliable and advise the customer to send it.

Why?

Because we knew most countries have impressive last mile delivery infrastructures. If you can get mail to the locality level, the people in the post office were really good at fixing your mistakes and getting the letter where it needed to go. It would take longer to get there because it had to go through exception processing, but the direct mail customers were generally okay with that. As long as the right percentage got through and our prices stayed low enough, the Faustian bargain held.

At the time the eCommerce executive contacted me, over 70 percent of our revenue came from customers related to direct mail. We were beholden to their requirements, and to be candid, we weren’t making very high margins ourselves. This was not exactly an environment conducive to innovation.

Without investing in a lot of improvements, we were never going to be good enough to satisfy the eCommerce industry’s needs. Their requirements were based on precision and spend – they expected every package to be delivered…and quickly! Mis-delivery cost them shipping and product losses and slow delivery cost them customers. The “good enough” approach that defined the generic global address industry – that False-Positive Bias – wouldn’t cut it.

For the next couple years I watched eCommerce trends closely. I saw cross-border shipping accelerate, growing rapidly quarter over quarter even while the address problem persisted. They hadn’t yet found good alternatives to meet their needs.

There is an opportunity here to do something useful, I remember thinking to myself, if only we can find a way to take the local intelligence that’s so good in delivery and apply it earlier in the chain of events for shipping packages. We needed to find a way to apply local intelligence in the address verification process. Before a package ever leaves the warehouse.

Two years later, during a trip to Brazil, I finally saw a way forward. More on that in my next post.

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Three Simple Steps to Reduce International Shipping Costs

I recently read where almost half of UK online shoppers purchased from sites outside of the UK. To me that is an amazing statistic and it is reflective of the growth of cross-border ecommerce. The other statistic quoted was that the biggest barriers to further growth are Delivery costs and timescales for receiving goods. How global merchant brands reduce this friction will determine future growth and success in the market.

Three Simple Steps to Reduce Delivery Costs

Is it possible for merchants to reduce their delivery costs globally without increasing shopping cart abandonment or adding pressure on your margins? The answer is “yes” and here’s how:

Step One

Globalize your order entry fields to accommodate international address standards

Global ecommerce practitioners should be aware of the fact that address formats around the world are different. Using the U.S. standard fields for order entry on an international web site creates bad address data entry. For example in some countries Street Numbers precede Street Name but in a number of countries it is the reverse with Street Name preceding Street Number. . If your systems are not designed to handle the nuances then you are generating additional headaches. By adjusting your entry fields to international standard formats, a merchant can ensure that all of the needed data is entered in the transaction by the buyer.

Step Two

Perform a real time address standardization and verification check during the order entry process

During the order entry process (but behind the scenes) the address information can be checked and either automatically corrected or flagged for follow-up processing based on the merchant’s preferences. By flagging for follow-up the shopping cart process is not interfered with but the order data itself can be checked before the item is actually shipped.

Step Three

Post Order but Pre Shipping process flagged addresses through a robust Global Address Validation and Correction solution

Those orders that are flagged during order entry should be run through an address verification and correction solution. For about $.05-.08/address a merchant can improve the deliverability of an international address. For any order over US$20.00 in value this cost is well worth the effort the results. Ecommerce merchants are encouraged to select a solution that has the most localized understanding of their key “ship-to” markets.

For orders that are flagged after this process, request additional data from the customer.

By following the above, you will:

  • Reduce the number of bad deliveries based on poor address information
  • Reduce the impact of customers service inquiries related to undelivered orders
  • Reduce the cost of lost inventory due to incorrect delivery and then redelivery of a replacement item to the customer
  • Expand international revenue opportunities by engaging untapped markets previously considered too high-risk or expensive to engage due to mis-delivery concerns.

Practice these steps and your costs go down as well as your delivery timescales. Customers are happy and place more orders.

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The Age of Convenience: Don’t let your first shipment be your last

eCommerce, as an industry, is hitting that point of maturity where the smallest things count the most. The internet has delivered on its promise to offer virtually any product to any purchaser anywhere. The long tail grows longer and longer, but the ability for any individual eCommerce provider to distinguish itself on having the widest selection or lowest price is actually shrinking. The markets are remarkably transparent, making it rare that a consumer can’t find the exact same product you’re offering from a dozen other e-tailers with a simple Google search.

So when the playing field is leveled on price and selection, the consumer turns to the softer variables when deciding to buy products from one retailer instead of another. Convenience ranks high on that list, and few things define the buyer’s view of convenience more than quick and accurate delivery.
Well, that’s where there is a problem. According to a recent IMRG study, eCommerce is leaving a lot on the table when it comes to delivering product quickly and accurately. The IMRG Home Delivery Review for 2014, summarized here, tells us that failed delivery remains a hard problem and costs the eCommerce industry upwards of a billion dollars a year. According to Andrew Starkey, head of elogistics at the IMRG:
“Failed deliveries resulting from orders placed with retailers and marketplace traders each year create in excess of £¾billion of avoidable costs – we cannot afford to allow the pace of innovation to slow.”
Beyond the costs spread across the industry comes the problem that bad delivery experience creates for individual e-tailers. Yes, it creates the headaches of managing returns or re-shipments. But more importantly, in a market where it’s harder and harder to distinguish yourself from the competition, it damages the consumers’ perception of the convenience you offer. It makes them less likely to come back and buy from you again.
The first shipment could be your last shipment. At GDC we spend a lot of time perfecting the use of address verification, identity validation, geocoding, and other specialty services to ensure accurate and timely delivery with the first shipment. It can save e-tailers a lot of money, no doubt. But more importantly, it boosts their ability to compete on convenience in an otherwise leveled playing field, and that means shipping more product to satisfied repeat customers!