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    Hidden figures

    Data ownership is a very hot topic these days, and for good reason. The value is in the data. Big data. But it’s important to note that data accessibility is also quite important. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many companies move away from data accessibility – sometimes with the intent to lock the user in and sometimes with an intent which is unclear. Here are two recent examples.

    Amazon, for some time now, stopped sending order receipts in their order confirmation. This means that in order to find a prior item purchased you must search your order history on Amazon’s website or app. While this seems like no big deal, imagine if all companies took a similar approach.

    Take the example of needing to buy replacement parts for a tent. You probably threw away any documentation, and want to find the model you bought. In the days of ‘old’ you could simply search your email for “tent” and your results would probably be a short list. But if all companies did what Amazon now does – send order confirmations, with no receipt or detail – your search would return no results. Then you have to go hunting to on all the websites you may have bought it from – Amazon? REI? Dick’s Sporting Goods? Walmart?

    There’s no good (consumer friendly) reason for Amazon not to include an order receipt with a list of items purchased. Nearly all other companies do this and Amazon used to do it too!

    The second example is in the Finance sector. Everybody wants you to go paperless. Great! I can access all of my account history online then, right?


    For inexplicable reasons you can only access a very limited period of time online. Want to see what your balance was 5 years ago? Not available. Sure, there is often not a reason to look back in time that far. However, the cost of storing and serving that data must me cheaper than sending out paper statements. Or, perhaps, on the whole it isn’t. I simply don’t understand why so many other companies can show me my order history back 10+ years (or more!) and most banks offer 18 months or 2 years at the most! When I was working for Lands’ End in the late 2000’s order history online was always one of the top requested features (they have since implemented this, obviously!).

    These are small, subtle changes in data accessibility but they do matter. Each step away from data accessibility matters and we should be aware when that access is being whittled away.

    This has been a thought from The Cake Scraps.

    One response to “Hidden figures”

    1. Ryan says:

      I was pleasantly surprised to see a new post! This one is quite interesting for me. I’m actively pushing my organization to be more open with the data used in our SaaS environment. I’ve got leadership to agree that it’s a problem. I have customers demanding access to the data. I’ve had a couple false starts but for our side the code base is quite old and it’s a technical challenge to even get to the underlying data. During the pandemic when difficult choices had to be made, it was easy to de-prioritize this objective in favor of getting a new product out.

      Even your example with the banks not holding onto your statements is likely because the product team involved with that only considered what their compliance department requires and didn’t consider your particular use case. Even if storing those likely has a negligible cost with our current cloud infrastructure providing very cheap storage.

      I wonder if most people don’t really think about this. You’re right that it is good UX to provide this, but if the average consumer isn’t bothered there might not be a lot of traction. I can tell you from my perspective as a Product Manager I feel passionate about the open access and if my key results indicate my customers do too, then it’ll start to perpetuate to other teams and organizations. At least I hope it will.

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