September 25, 2008, 12:00 AM

Alibris, Petco share insights on managing analytics data

While online retailers deal with more data than ever related to customer activity, they must learn to manage and disseminate that flood of information to suit their business goals, analytics experts at Alibris, Petco and Forrester Research say.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

While online retailers deal with more data than ever related to customer activity both on and off their own web sites, they must learn to manage and disseminate that flood of information to suit their business goals, experts at e-retailers Alibris and Petco Animal Supplies Inc. said on a conference panel last week moderated by research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc.

"We live in a state of data gluttony, and many people don`t know how to use it," John Lovett, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said during the panel discussion at the Shop.org conference in Las Vegas. "Sometimes when we try to see the big `Aha!,` we get too close it and don`t see it."

Lovett added that retailers-dealing with a flood of data from such sources as search marketing campaigns, site search activity, customer shopping behavior, e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing and customer-generated data-must take several steps to get control of all that information including establishing a process for using information, cultivating staff expertise, managing data intake and dissemination among staff, putting usable data into action, and testing to see what of the status quo on web sites needs to be changed.

John Lazarchic, vice president of e-commerce at Petco, said it`s been crucial for Petco to have at least one dedicated web analytics expert who can help interpret data for the retailer`s merchandisers and marketers, and for each individual member of his staff to learn to view and use analytics. He added that Petco, No. 184 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, was seeking a second full-time analytics expert.

One example of having an overabundance of data, he added, is dealing with both web site analytics and financial data simultaneously. A sharp increase in online sales could be tied to new online shopping features on a retailer¡¯s web site, but also related to extended sources like social networks, Lazarchik said. "I never look at web analytics and financial analytics at the same time," he said. Instead, he added, he will check to see if there any variations in the way web activity and financial numbers are tracking.

Brian Elliott, CEO of Alibris, an e-retailer of used, rare and out-of-print books, added that he`ll maintain steady records of the source of each data stream to view trends and benchmark periods of performance against one another.

Alibris, No. 112 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, also uses dashboards to display key performance indicators in year-to-year comparisons. Petco uses dashboards to display performance reports for individual operating groups.

Forrester Research found in a study several ways in which retailers use web analytics:

    39% measure visitor behavior, but without applying that data in further applications
      37% review post-campaigns to evaluate effectiveness
        37% use analytics on an ad hoc basis for special projects
          35% measure critical success metrics
            33% test concepts online prior to launching offline
              23% use analytics as the foundation for all marketing initiatives

              Lovett noted that many retailers have no near-term plans to use analytics in A/B or multivariate testing, even though testing can produce important information on the effectiveness of merchandising and marketing efforts. Only 20% are doing some testing now, he noted.

              He said retailers face the biggest challenges regarding using analytics in the measurement of visitor segmentation and customer engagement (tied as most challenging) followed in order of the level of difficulty by marketing attribution and site- and merchandise-specific analytics related to page/task abandonment, pathing analysis, measuring new media, data integration, A/B testing, content value and merchandising analysis.

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