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Posts Tagged ‘eCommerce’

Your Business and The Holidays: A Christmas Carol

Christmas is, of course, a major religious holiday celebrated around the world. And also one of the busiest and most profitable times of year for your business. But do you know how it first got that way?

Many people credit author Charles Dickens and his story A Christmas Carol with helping Victorian England, and later the world, see Christmas as a time of gift-giving and family connection. His mid-1800s story focused on how a lonely miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, learned to avoid the fate of his partner’s eternal torment when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come taught him to focus on what really matters – other people.

With apologies to Dickens, we feel that the three ghosts of Christmas have a valuable modern-day lesson to teach us about creating a happy holiday season for everyone, in the middle of your biggest crunch time. (Fair warning: it involves data quality.)

  • First, the ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge what life was like once upon a time at the holidays, when employees were happy and the company took good care of everyone – before Scrooge eventually presided over a joyless, high-pressure workplace. Just like what happens when your own performance pressures put data quality on the back burner, something a recent executive survey showed as being a major concern.
  • Next, the ghost of Christmas Present warns Scrooge that unless he changes his priorities, his neglect of others will harm people like the humble Bob Crachit and his ailing son Tiny Tim – much like your business can ruin the holidays for your customers when bad contact data causes service failures.
  • Finally, the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come paints a grim picture of a world where Scrooge is dead and no one cares – the same way that people turn away from your business and never return when you don’t deliver what you promise.

What do these lessons have to do with your own holiday rush season? Everything.

You see, most people in most businesses focus on doing their individual jobs, like entering orders or shipping products. But what about the greater mission of making sure that everyone gets what they need from you, particularly at the holidays? Too often, that is someone else’s job. Which means it becomes no one’s job. And service failures, such as packages that never arrive or contact information that isn’t correct, just become a fact of life that gets tolerated by everyone.

The ghosts of Christmas taught Scrooge that he had to learn to care, or face the consequences. The same is true for you and your business at the holidays. And the best way to care for your customers – particularly when things are at their busiest – is to put processes in place that make sure the customer comes first.

At Service Objects, we help the holidays go smoothly with tools that range from simple address validation – fueled by up-to-date real-time data from the United States Postal Service and others – all the way to complete order verification capabilities that authenticate customers and guard against fraud. We can even append information such as phone numbers to your contact data, to help you keep in touch with people, or gain geographic and demographic insight that lets you serve people better in the future. All through automated processes that run seamlessly in your applications environment.

The lesson for Christmas, then and now? Don’t be a Scrooge. And let the holiday season be a time when your business shines for everyone.

Service Objects Announces Record Breaking Number of Transactions Processed on Cyber Monday 2017

Cyber Monday 2017 was a busy day for many online retailers, including Service Objects. We were so busy, in fact, that we processed a record number of contact data validation transactions. Looking at the online shopping stats, we shouldn’t be surprised. According to numbers released by Adobe Insights, shoppers spent 16.8% more in 2017 than on Cyber Monday 2016, setting a new online record of $6.6 billion in sales.  The mobile sales record was also surpassed, reaching $2 billion over a 24-hour period.

So why did Service Objects’ break our own record? Because our contact validation services play a vital role in the online shopping process for many merchants.  We enable retailers to verify that an individual’s contact information is genuine, accurate and up-to-date. In addition, by validating a person’s name, address, phone number, email and device, businesses significantly increase package delivery rates and considerably increase their ability to detect fraudulent transactions.

In fact, some of the largest retailers in the world use Service Objects’ real-time contact validation services. While consumers were busy breaking sales number records on Cyber Monday, Service Objects’ customers processed over a million more transactions on that day than previous years, making it the largest day in our history.

And we see this trend continuing. As online shopping continues to capture a larger percentage of retailers’ overall sales every year, Service Objects will play a vital role in ecommerce by providing the ability for merchants to validate and clean their customer contact data against hundreds of authoritative data sources – all in a blink of an eye. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a 99.999% server uptime guarantee, unlimited no cost technical support and bank grade transaction security.

For more information or to test any one of Service Objects’ 23 contact validation solutions, please visit https://www.serviceobjects.com/products.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Opportunity and Peril

Do you sell products online? If you do, you have a great opportunity in front of you. An opportunity to boost revenues, increase market share, and create visibility for your business. Or an equally great opportunity to drive away customers, damage your brand, and lose money to fraud.

This opportunity comes once a year, in the form of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping period. Using figures from Adobe Digital Insights, Fortune Magazine noted that Cyber Monday 2016 was the biggest online shopping day in US history, with sales of $3.45 billion – a jump of 12% from the previous year. The traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping day of Black Friday came in a close second, with $3.34 billion of online sales in 2016, putting it on track to eventually surpass Cyber Monday as shopping channels continue to blur.

The good news is that both Black Friday and Cyber Monday each represent more than three times the volume of a normal online shopping day. And beyond sheer sales volume, these holidays traditionally draw new or annual shoppers online – people who are openly searching with an intent to purchase, with a great opportunity to discover your brand and become long-term customers.

Unfortunately, it is also open season for fraudsters. Online e-commerce fraud increases sharply during the holiday season, with fraudulent transaction rates reaching a peak of 2.5% versus a normal rate of 1.6%, against an average transaction value in excess of $200. The rise of chip-enabled cards has pushed even more fraudulent activity online in recent years, with online fraud attempts rising by 31% between 2015 and 2016. And there are risks associated with your legitimate customers as well, where problems such as missed deliveries or incorrect contact information can lead to problems ranging from lost business to poor social media reviews – particularly in the spotlight of the holidays.

Here is a quick guide to making the most of your customer opportunities this holiday season:

Screen out the bad guys. Prevent fraudulent transactions by using multi-function order verification to check for things such as address validation, BIN validation, reverse phone lookup, email validation, and IP validation, returning a measure of order quality from 0 to 100 that you can use to flag potential problem orders before they ship.

Execute orders correctly. Use address validation to verify and correct shipping information against up-to-date USPS, Canada Post or international address data, to ensure every order goes to the right place on schedule.

Keep your contact data working for you. Did you know that 70% of contact data changes every year? Validating and correcting this data every time you use it in a campaign preserves this valuable contact information as a business asset.

Target your marketing. Validate the legitimacy of your marketing leads, and check for appropriate demographics such as income and geographic location, to make your outreach for the holidays as efficient as possible.

Thankfully automated data quality solutions that can be engineered right in your API, or run as convenient batch processes with your existing data, can make optimizing the value of your contact data a simple and cost-effective process. And in the process, make Black Friday and Cyber Monday a little less scary – and a lot more profitable.

Unique US and Canadian Zip Code Files – Now Available for Download

Customer Service Above All.  It is one of our core values here at Service Objects.  Recently, we’ve received several requests for a list of the unique zip codes throughout the US and Canada.  By leveraging our existing services, we’ve made this happen.  We are now offering both the US and Canada list as a free downloadable resource.

So why is Service Objects providing this data? Our goal is to provide the best data cleansing solutions possible for our clients. Part of this means using our existing data to provide our users with the data they need. While other data providers might charge for this type of information, we’ve decided to make it freely available for anyone’s use. These files can be used for several purposes, such as pre-populating a list of cities and states for a form where a user needs to enter address information. The County and State FIPS information is widely used in census and demographic data or could be used to uniquely identify States and counties within a database.  Additionally, the given time zone information can be used to determine appropriate times to place calls to a customer.

Where to Download

This link allows you to access a .zip file containing two CSV records.  One CSV contains the US information, the other is for Canada.  The files indicate the month and year the records were created. Toward the middle of each month, the data in each record will be updated to account for any changes in US and Canadian postal codes.

What Other Information is in the Files?

Both files will have postal codes, states (or provinces for Canada) and time zone information.  The Canadian zip code file will be much larger in size with over 800K records. This is due to Canadian Postal Codes generally being much smaller than US Postal codes. Where a US postal code can sometimes encompass multiple cities or counties, a Canadian postal code can be the size of a couple city blocks or in some cases a single high-rise building.

The US file has information for all United States postal codes including its territories. This file will also include the county that the zip code lies in. There will be County and State FIPS numbers for each of the records to help with processing that information as well.  The US file will be considerably smaller than the Canadian file at only 41K records.

In making these files freely accessible, our hope is to make the integration and business logic easier for our users. If you’d like to discuss your particular contact data validation needs, feel free to contact us!

The Power of DOTS FastTax

What is DOTS FastTax?

DOTS FastTax web service provides sales and use tax rate information for all US areas based on several different inputs. The operations that are offered within FastTax take input parameters such as address, city, state, postal code. The service also provides an operation that will take your Canadian province and will return the proper Canadian tax rate information.

How can it be used?

At its core, FastTax is an address to tax rate lookup system. You provide the service with a location and it will return the tax rate or rates for the given area. From there you can use this data in conjunction with your own business logic to easily determine the proper tax rate you should be charging. A common use case is for online retail companies that need to determine the rate to charge for an order. Rates vary greatly depending on where the client is located and if the company has a sales tax nexus in that state.  Nexus, also known as sufficient physical presence, is a legal term that refers to the requirement for companies doing business in a state to collect and pay tax on sales in that state. Calculating the proper rate is as easy as determining where your company has nexuses and then performing a tax rate look up via the FastTax web service. These two steps can be done programmatically, thus streamlining your business workflow.

What makes FastTax so powerful?

It may seem like a simple task to take an address and perform a lookup on a tax rate database. In theory it is just identifying a location and then finding the relevant tax rates for it. However, in reality there are many more factors that need to be accounted for to ensure the tax rate being returned is accurate, up to date, and truly relevant for the input address. It is in these aspects where Service Objects’ FastTax goes above and beyond. On top of our tax rate databases that are actively maintained to provide the latest and most accurate tax rate data, our operations benefit from the other services we specialize in. Namely, our address validation and address geocoding services.

How does FastTax go above and beyond?

Through the use of our address validation engine we are able to take an input address and determine its correctness as well as standardize it into its most useable form. Having an address corrected and standardized allows us to more accurately match the location with its corresponding tax rate. On top of address validation, our use of geocoordinates and spatial data allow us to identify boundaries between areas. This could be the difference between charging the proper rate for an area or misidentifying it and missing rates such as county, country district, city district, or even special district rates. Another extremely important distinction that geocoordinates allow us to make is for areas that are unincorporated. FastTax provides an “IsUnincorporated” flag when an address is in an unincorporated area. This allows for your business logic to correctly tax this address by removing any city or city district rates.

FastTax in action

To see the power of FastTax in action it helps to take a look at Google Maps. Let’s take the city of Littleton, Colorado. In fig.1 the city perimeter is outlined in red and its contents shaded in. The Google Maps result shows the officially recognized city limits. Comparing that to the pin shown in fig.2 it is clear that the address in this example falls beyond the city limits. Technically it is identified as part of the city of Littleton but is part of an unincorporated area. Tax rates for this address need to properly account for this geospatial and city boundary information. FastTax excels in identifying these areas and can provide the “IsUnidentified” flag to indicate this address falls into its own special case. With the indicator flag in hand you can properly account for the difference in tax rates.

See how FastTax can help your business. Sign up for your free trial key or send us a list and test up to 500 transactions.

Service Objects New BIN Validation Operation Helps Retailers Fight Fraud

Here at Service Objects, we strive to improve our services to best meet our customers’ needs. Sometimes that means adding additional features and upgrades, tweaking an existing service and/or operation, leveraging new datasets, or adding an entirely new service. We take pride on being able to quickly and effectively respond to our customers’ feedback and requests.

Part of this response to client feedback has led us to develop a new operation upgrade for our DOTS BIN Validation service. It is called ValidateBIN_V2. This new feature represents the latest and greatest that our BIN Validation service has to offer.

DOTS BIN Validation service is used to help determine if a certain BIN (the first 6 digits of a credit card number) is valid or not — a crucial step in fighting fraud. BIN validation also helps merchants determine if a credit card number is for a debit card, credit card, gift card, or prepaid card. Likewise, the BIN number will identify the country of origin for the card, providing you with insight as to the validity of the transaction.

This new BIN operation upgrade builds on the previous operation, providing even further information about a BIN.

By design, and to ensure that we’re giving our customers quality information, the V1 BIN operation returns information about a BIN only if bank information can be found about it.

The ValidateBIN_V2 operation provides the same information as the V1 operation, but also functions slightly differently and provides additional information:

  • Instead of failing a BIN or providing an error response, ValidateBIN_V2 displays any information about a BIN that we can find.
  • The V2 operation upgrade will return a “Status” field indicating “OK” for BINs we were able to find or “Not Found” for BINs that we weren’t able to find or that don’t exist.
  • The V2 operation will return the same card type, sub type, bank, and country information that the old operation returned.

We’ve also added a few new fields to the new BIN operation that make it more helpful to the end user:

  • Warnings — This field returns warning codes and accompanying descriptions about those warnings. The current service will only return warnings if the bank information, card type or country information is missing for a BIN.
  • Notes— This field contains additional information. Based on the way we have set these fields up in our API, we can easily add new warnings and notes as we continue to improve our services.  These fields allow us to return useful information about a BIN without affecting the current output structure of the API.
  • Information Components — This field is set up in a way that allows us to future proof the ValidateBIN_V2 operation. If we need to add new fields, the Information Components field allows us to easily do so without altering the existing structure of the API.

If you are interested in testing our BIN Validation API, sign up for a free trial key today!

Is Your Shopping Cart Feeling Abandoned? Data Quality Can Help

Dating experts will tell you that people have more problems committing than ever before. And nowhere is this more evident than in your online shopping cart. According to Barriliance, a vendor of online shopping cart optimization tools, over three-quarters of people abandoned their carts in 2016, with specific figures ranging from 73% on desktops to over 85% on mobile phones.

Cart abandonment sounds like a term straight out of family therapy, but in reality it provides an important window on consumer behavior. Some factors for bailing out on a purchase may be unavoidable – for example, customers may window-shop on their phones to purchase something later, or become reluctant to purchase when they see high shipping charges or additional fees. But other factors are within your control, and these often revolve around data quality issues.

Here are some of the big ones:

Too much data entry. Your customer sees 20 ‘required’ fields to be completed to check out.  Instead, they abandon the cart due to too much ‘form friction’. For greater conversion, we want to reduce the amount of friction wherever possible to promote a fast and accurate checkout process. Autocomplete tools can help lessen the friction, and are generally considered accurate, as they are based on the individuals’ contact information. Whereas, address-suggestors should be used with caution, as they can present the user with multiple address matches close to their own.  This significantly increases the risk of the user accidentally selecting an incorrect but real address. This can also create increased confusion when credit card authorization fails due to mismatched address, further increasing cart abandonment. Regardless of the tool, Address validation should always take place after the customer uses autocomplete and/or address-suggestor, to reduce the risk that a wrong – but valid and deliverable – address gets used.

Computer literacy. Often your richest target markets struggle the most with ordering things online – and too often, throw up their hands if there are too many hardships to placing an order. This means that cart recovery often revolves around being able to reach out to a customer and help them complete the order.

By using phone validation and email validation tools, you can help ensure correct contact data is captured in the event that you need to call or email customers about incomplete orders, and hopefully convert some of these into completed ones. These contacts are generally very effective: for example, Business Insider cites figures from marketing automation firm Listrak showing that 40% of follow-up cart recovery emails are opened if sent within three hours.

Payment information. When people pay by credit card online, they are usually entering 16-20 digits, and typos and bad information can quickly kill valid orders. A Luhn check, a real-time, simple checksum formula designed to distinguish valid numbers from mistyped or otherwise incorrect numbers, can help ensure the credit card number entered at least meets the basic criteria.  You can also check the Bank identification number (BIN) to ensure correct credit card numbers, that have passed that Luhn algorithm, are legitimately issued by financial institutions even before trying to process the actual charge.  This provides the opportunity to engage the customer at the time of entry and allow for corrections.  As a bonus, BIN validation also helps screen out fraudulent payment information before you process the order and/or ship.

Keep It Simple. The design, layout and even language used for your cart make a difference too. Kissmetrics notes that buyers can be turned off by faux pas ranging from bad design, making people create an account, or the process is too complicated.  A simple, clean step-by-step guide can provide confidence for your shopper and increase your conversion rates as well.  When there is an error, do not overlook the power of strong and informative error messaging.  For example, if email validation returns a specific error, let the customer know the precise nature of the error and provide suggestions on how to fix it. A generic ‘error’ message is not enough.

Finally, there is one kind of cart that always should be left behind: people who are trying to place fraudulent orders. You can use bundled tools such as lead and order validation to perform real-time multi-point contact validation on US, Canadian and International leads, comparing data such as name, company, address, phone, email and device against hundreds of authoritative data sources. The results provide both an individual quality score for each data point and a composite quality score (0-100), to ensure that you are working with genuine and accurate leads.

Online order entry truly is a bit like dating. We can’t make everyone fall in love with us, or guarantee that they will make it all the way to the altar. But with the right kinds of tools, including building in data quality safeguards at the API level, we can boost our chances of success substantially. And that is something every online merchant can be in love with.

The Importance of Data Quality for International Ecommerce

In today’s era of online ecommerce, international sales represent a huge potential market for US vendors. According to research firm eMarketer, international sales represent three-quarters of a nearly US $2 trillion retail ecommerce market, nearly half of which comes from China alone. And much of this vast market is only a click away.

On the other hand, cross-border sales remain one of the greatest risks for fraud, with a rate that was more than twice that of domestic fraud through 2012, and despite recent improvements in data quality technology this rate is still 28% higher as of 2015. And one digital commerce site notes that while retailers are making progress at managing fraudulent transaction rates, they are doing so at the expense of turning away good customers – people who, in turn, may never patronize these sites again.

So how do you exploit a rich and growing potential market while mitigating your risk for fraud? The answer might surprise you. While nearly everyone preaches the importance of a fraud protection strategy for ecommerce, and suggestions abound in areas that range from credit card verification to IP geolocation, the head of ecommerce at industry giant LexisNexis points to one area above all: address verification.

In a recent interview with Multichannel Merchant, LexisNexis ecommerce chief Aaron Press points out that the biggest problem with international addresses is a lack of addressing standards between countries. “Postal codes have different formats, where you put the number, how the street is formatted. Normalizing all of that down to a set of parameters that can be published on an API is a huge challenge.”

This means that you need robust capabilities in any third-party solution that you choose to help verify international addresses. Some of the key things to look for include:

  • How many countries does the vendor support address formats for, and does this list include all of the countries where you do business?
  • Can the application handle multiple or nested municipality formats? For example, a customer may list the same location in Brazil correctly as Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Município do Rio de Janeiro – or even the sub-municipality of Guanabara Bay.
  • Will the application handle different spellings or translations for common areas? In the address above, for example, the country may be spelled as Brazil or Brasil. Likewise, the United Kingdom may also be referred to as England, British Isles, Karalyste, Birtaniya, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or even 英国 (Chinese for the United Kingdom, literally “England Kingdom”).
  • Can these capabilities can be implemented as an API within your ordering application? Or can it process addresses externally through batch processing?

In general, cross-border fraud prevention requires a multi-pronged effort involving all of the potential stress points in an international transaction, including international address verification, email validation, credit card BIN validation, IP address verification – even name validation, so you can flag orders addressed to Vladimir Putin or Homer Simpson. These are clearly capabilities that you outsource to a vendor, unless you happen to be sitting on hundreds of millions of global addresses and their country-specific formats. The good news is that in an era of inexpensive cloud-based applications, strong fraud protection is easily implemented nowadays as part of your normal order processing strategy.

Launching a New Ecommerce Site? Don’t Forget Data Quality Tools

Online commerce is huge nowadays – to the tune of over $400 billion dollars a year in the United States alone in 2017, at a growth rate up to three times that of retail in general. Barriers to entry are lower than ever, ecommerce platforms have become simpler to use and less expensive than ever, and the convenience of e-commerce has grown to encompass businesses of every size. Above all, purchasing goods online has become ubiquitous among today’s consumers.

Whether you are looking to launch a simple shopping cart using platforms like WordPress’ WooCommerce, Shopify or Magento, or an enterprise solution like Microsoft’s Commerce Server or IBM’s WebSphere Commerce, it can still be a minefield for the uninitiated. Here are some of the risks that every online seller takes every day:

Fraud. Filling orders from fraudulent sources costs you both revenue and time – and according to Javelin Research, identity fraud alone totals over $18 billion per year in the US. And the bad guys particularly love to target novice sellers.

Fulfillment. Every online order starts a chain of activities – from billing to shipment – that depend on the quality of your contact data. Credit card processing often requires accurate address data, and one misdirected shipment can wipe out the profit margin of many other sales – not to mention the reputational damage it can do.

Marketing. According to the Harvard Business Review, the cost of acquiring a new customer ranges from 5 to 25 times the cost of selling to an existing customer. This means that your contact database is the key to follow-on sales, brand awareness and long-term profitability. Which also means that bad contact data – and the rate at which this contact data decays– cuts straight to your bottom line.

Tax issues. Did you know that tax rates can vary from one side of a street to the other? Or that some states have passed or are considering an “internet tax” out-of-state sellers? Tax compliance, and avoiding the penalties that come with incorrect sales tax rates, is a fact of life for any online business.

The common denominator between each of these issues? Data quality. And thankfully, these problems can all be mitigated inexpensively nowadays, with tools that fit right in with your current contact management strategy. Some of the solutions available today from Service Objects include:

  • A suite of tools for fraud prevention, including address, email and telephone verification, lead validation that scores prospects on a scale of 0-100, credit card validation, and IP address validation – so you know when an order for a customer in Utah is placed from Uzbekistan.
  • Shipping address validation tools that verify addresses against up-to-date real-time data from the USPS and Canada Post, to make sure your products go to the right place every time.
  • Email verification capabilities that perform over 50 tests, including auto-correcting common domain errors and yielding an overall quality score – improving your marketing effectiveness AND preventing your mail servers from being blacklisted.
  • Real-time tax rate assessment that validates your addresses, and then provides accurate sales and use tax rates at any jurisdictional level.

Each of these capabilities are available in several convenient formats, ranging from APIs for your applications to batch processing of contact lists. Whichever form you choose, automated data tools can quickly make the most common problems of online commerce a thing of the past.

Service Objects is the industry leader in real-time contact validation services.

Service Objects has verified over 3 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE