CHAPTER 6Big Is Beautiful: How Email Receipt Data Can Help Predict Company Sales

Giuliano De Rossi Jakub Kolodziej and Gurvinder Brar


This chapter describes our experience working on a big data project. In this chapter our goal is twofold: 1. To assess the potential of electronic receipt data as a source of information, particularly to predict company sales in real time. 2. To document the challenges of dealing with such a large dataset and the solutions we adopted.

The dataset we employ in the analysis consists of a vast table that details the purchases made by a large sample of US consumers on the online platforms of a number of companies, including Amazon, Expedia and Domino's Pizza.

Consumer data organized in large panels is not a new phenomenon in economics and finance. For example, the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has followed 18 000 individuals (and their descendants) since 1968 by collecting responses to questionnaires at regular time intervals. The Quandl database, however, is very different from a ‘longitudinal panel’ in two respects.

First, the data is not collected with a view to building a representative sample. The individuals that opt in to the data sharing agreement with Quandl typically do so when they register to use the email productivity tools they have obtained from Quandl's partners. As a result, we know very little about the demographics, income and other characteristics of the sample. This may well introduce ...

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