Retailers were arguably some of the first power-users of what we now call Big Data -- information pulled from a variety of sources and crunched together to make predictions and decisions. In fact, I think Wal-Mart (that's how they spelled it at the time) was one of the earliest users of the term "data warehouse" because they were generating such a staggering amount of information, and collecting it all in a single place for analysis.
Today you don't have to be the biggest retailer in the world to be able to put together a Big Data plan. A huge amount of useful information can be pulled for almost nothing thanks to for-hire marketing analytics providers, government website APIs for pulling socioeconomic, ethnographic and geographic information, and of course social networks like Twitter and Facebook who have access to (and often republish) the public (and sometimes private) information of billions of individuals around the world.
While thinking about this, I came across a nice infographic from Data Science Central which attempts to outline some of the benefits that Big Data analysis can confer on participating retailers. When I first looked over the graphic, one part (where they posit that retailers have transitioned from "making transactions" to "formating relationships" with customers struck me. My initial reaction was "ah, typical Big Data hyperbole." But after considering it more, it seemed more true. Today the majority of retailers (online and off) that I frequent "know" a lot about me. They're -- at times -- uncannily good at predicting what I'm shopping for, what I need, and what I simply want. And yes, the "relationship" between us is extremely superficial, but it's leaps and bounds ahead of what it would have been shopping in a big retail store or discount club 15 or 20 years ago. In a nutshell: it's useful.
I've clipped only a small part of the infographic below. The whole thing is quite a bit larger and available on the Data Science Central link above, and is certainly worth a few minutes of contemplation.