Shop Direct highlights big data’s impact as profits rise

Online retailer Shop Direct has highlighted its investments in big data and machine learning as among the reasons for its recent success, as it unveiled revenue of £1.86 billion for the first full year since the implementation of these technologies.

Computing magazine reports that the company, which runs brands including and, reported profits of £150.4 million for the period, an increase of 43 per cent year-on-year.

Chief executive of the group Alex Baldock said this success has been down to a greater focus on new technology, and this is something that the firm will continue with in the coming years.

“This was the year our investments in technology really started to pay off," he said. "We've made big strides in m-commerce, big data and personalisation. But there's a lot more to play for in these areas."

For instance, he highlighted artificial intelligence as a solution that can "change the game" for the company when it comes to how it uses data. Mr Baldock said that Shop Direct has already begun to deploy this technology and is serious about taking it much further.

In its report, Shop Direct highlighted how it uses machine learning technology to improve its offerings, such as delivering personalised recommendations to its customers based on their buying habits.

“Driven by machine learning, the group is now personalising more customer touchpoints than ever, from customer emails and off-site advertising to homepage content, on-site sort orders, top navigation menus and product recommendations deeper within the shopping journey," the company stated.

It has also begun trialling more personalised services using this data, in order to build "deeper relationships" with its customers.

Shop Direct has made big data analytics a key part of its business since it abandoned its traditional print catalogue-based business in January 2015 in favour of a completely digital offering.

Earlier this year, chief executive of financial services at the company Neil Chandler explained to Computing how it has spent six years transforming its offering from a catalogue firm into a "world-class" leader in digital retail.

Its efforts include a personalised sort order tool, which compiles a list of suggested products based on a user's history and ensures these appear at the top of the user's search results page.

This is something that's particularly important as more of the firm's customers switch to mobile devices, where space is at a premium. Mr Chandler explained: "On mobile, people aren't going to keep swiping down if they are looking for a black dress and there are 100 to choose from – they'll probably see nine at best.

"So the aim is to work out how analytics can help to curate and show the best nine black dresses for the customer that are in stock, that match the fashion preferences and are in the right price range."

Tools such as this will be hugely valuable in the coming years, as Shop Direct's results indicate there has been a 46 per cent increase in the number of orders placed via smartphones in the last year, while the company's apps have been downloaded over a million times across Android and iOS.

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