January 4, 2006, 12:00 AM

Cutting through the clutter

(Page 3 of 3)

Africa has seen results from RSS on GuessFactory.com sufficient to justify extending it to Guess.com and Marciano.com. “I’ve compared this to conversion rates in other campaigns I use to acquire or retain customers. In comparison to my e-mail campaigns, the open rate is about 50% higher and the conversion rate is nearly the same as conversion on the site,” he says.

Despite any issues associated with RSS as a lesser known and less-proven technology in e-commerce, Africa believes benefits associated with the technology ultimately outweigh the concerns. Not the least of them is the ability of an RSS feed to create a kind of super segmentation of customers that exceeds any targeting capacity currently offered in e-mail.

“You can’t segment e-mail every possible way. If you have a customer who says, ‘I want to hear about accessories, outerwear, new arrivals and handbags,’ and you are only sending one e-mail a week, which e-mail do you send?,” he says. By contrast, with a dynamically-generated RSS feed, the customer in effect creates her own segment, pulling data from the server in all those categories to go into one communication.

That said, Africa says e-mail isn’t going away, pointing out that many consumers aren’t quick to adopt new technology. But eventually, he says, RSS will have a significant impact on e-mail. “I think you will see better results than in your e-mails, because of spam and all of the efforts people are making to detect it,” he says.

New channels ahead

Currently, most RSS feeds from e-commerce sites are delivered to desktops or notebooks, but it’s also possible to receive some feed content by specially equipped phone. Li points out that as a platform RSS isn’t locked into one delivery channel. “Once you have content in RSS, you can move it in any channel you want,” she says.

Adds Brian Ratzliff, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development at WhatCounts, “People need to start thinking about RSS and blogging as essentially an operating system. What are going to be created are all kinds of different software modules applicable to being built on that foundation.”

Ratzliff sees a day in future years when the shopper visiting a Neiman Marcus store, for example, will walk into the store, get a dynamically-generated feed delivered to her cell phone or some other handheld device that that identifies her location and with the press of a button, receive relevant shopping information and perhaps even an electronic coupon.

Even Ratzliff isn’t sure how today’s consumer would respond to that scenario of tomorrow, but he says the technology to support it already exists. In the meantime, analysts like Li believe that given the relatively low investment required, ease of basic implementation and growing interest in RSS among consumers, now is the time for retailers to start investigating the technology.

“Blogs are not for everyone. Podcasting definitely isn’t. But RSS is one of those no-brainer technologies that everyone should be experimenting with,” she says.

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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