Digital Data Inflation in Retail Websites

December 9, 2014 Brad Perry

a string of connected shopping carts

Retail web sites are heavily driven by data, and inflation has major impacts on key metrics such as revenue attribution to advertising spend, predictive analytics for inventory management, and performance metrics in SEC filings. A few months ago, we published the 2014 Internet Retail Data Quality Index, which compared how web sites in the Internet Retail Top 100 and the Internet Retail Top 501-600 stack up from a data quality management perspective. Among the many interesting findings, we found significant data inflation.

About Data Inflation

Data Inflation occurs when page view data is double-counted (or more) due to the presence of more than one web analytics tag from a vendor on a single page. As the tag fires over and over again, visitor data sent to marketing technology vendor’s servers. When more than one tag for a given vendor fires on a single page, data is inflated with each subsequent tag firing.

For example, on the home page of a web site xyz.com, web analytics code should execute when a visitor lands on the page. Under ideal circumstances, 1 visitor is counted 1 time. But when inflation is detected, 1 visitor can be counted 2 or more times, depending on how many times the tracking code has been re-copied on the page. (Web browsers don’t know that code has already been executed, so they execute it again if they’re told to). This is a common programming error that happens due to the distributed nature of web development and the multitude of systems that drive digital experiences.

ObservePoint’s data quality management platform simulates real web site traffic and observes the outbound network traffic as if it is the web analytics provider, so it is able to detect these sorts of errors.

Data inflation can also be caused by an incorrect migration to a tag management system. Upon migration to a TMS, if remnant tags are not manually removed from page code, tags end up firing twice – once from the remnant tags, and once from the TMS. Likewise, if code is restored from a pre-TMS code base, tags can be reintroduced onto pages.

Impact to Cost of Ownership

Many web analytics systems (and other digital marketing technologies) have variable costs for data throughput, or server calls. Unnecessary server calls caused by duplicated tags increases the cost of technology ownership while simultaneously degrading data quality. In many ways, data inflation is worse than missing data because not only is the data flawed, but also there is an increase in server calls and, consequently, tool costs as well.

Data Inflation in Primary Web Analytics Systems of Record

Internet Retailer Top 1-100 sites have an average of 146% data inflation. Three percent of these websites had between 1000% and 1800% inflation in their web analytics system of record. 22% of websites have over 100% data inflation. 51% of top 100 sites had less than 10% data inflation, and the majority of those had no inflation.

About half of websites with data inflation issues use a tag management system. It’s very likely that the inflation in these cases is caused by remnant tags deployed outside of the TMS, not by errors with the TMS. In fact, an inspection of the TMS deployment only might give the impression that there are no tagging errors at all.

Sites ranked between 501-600 have an average of 42% data inflation. Fifteen percent of sites have inflation greater than 100%, but one site has over 400% inflation. 66% of 501-600 ranked sites have less than 10% inflation, and many of those have no inflation at all.

Data Inflation in Secondary Web Analytics Tools

Digital analysts often deploy second web analytics tools as a fallback system. We must ask, however, how effective fallback systems are when they are as prone to error as primary systems, and whether it’s worth the effort required to maintain two systems. The fact is, the deployment and maintenance of all javascript based tracking systems is challenging, and while the intentions of deploying a backup system are understandable, in many cases, this can add to confusion, especially when looking at granular data.

Top 100 ranked sites with a secondary web analytics tool (about 48% of sites), have an average of 190% data inflation. Twenty-three percent of 501-600 ranked sites with a secondary web analytics tool has 48% inflation.

Conclusion

As is evident from our data quality index, both of these groups need some work when it comes to data quality management. Internet retailers need to have accurate information from their site to ensure their design and marketing dollars are providing them the ROI they need to most efficiently manage their online merchandise. In addition to ecommerce, there are a number of other industries where it is vital website data is as accurate as possible. When selecting a tag management tool, businesses need to make sure they choose the best solution possible. When it comes to data quality management, organizations need to choose one they can trust will keep their sites data in line.

To read more about how the top internet retailers manage their data quality download the 2014 Internet Retailer Data Quality Index.

To find out how inflation and other data quality issues are affecting your web site, request a free audit using our tagless Site Auditing solution.

 

About the Author

Brad Perry

Brad Perry has been Director of Demand Generation at ObservePoint since June 2015. He is, in his own words, “unhealthily addicted to driving marketing success” and has demonstrated his unrelenting passion for marketing in various verticals. His areas of expertise include demand generation, marketing operations & system design, marketing automation, email campaign management, content strategy, multi-stage lead nurturing and website optimization.

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