April 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Targeting Tech

(Page 2 of 3)

Ensuring site performance

CSN Stores is also taking steps to shore up its e-commerce infrastructure, to ensure a consistently reliable shopping experience across its more than 200 online storefronts, Conine says. “One of our biggest beliefs is that our sites have to be fast and consistent, regardless of whether we’re attracting new customers or bringing back old ones,” he says.

Although CSN is also looking into technology from providers like Liquid Pixels and Adobe Scene7 for more rich media displays, which have proven effective at converting furniture shoppers into buyers, the retailer is mostly focused this year on ensuring reliable site performance.

“When our marketing group plans a promotion to increase customer loyalty, it can cause traffic to hit our server farms in different ways, and it can all be for naught if any of our sites don’t perform,” Conine says. “So we’re making sure we have sufficient infrastructure and a solid enough system in place.”

Among CSN’s recent investments is a backup data center to cover power outages; new network switching technology from Cisco Systems Inc. to increase security; and site-monitoring technology from Coradiant that identifies problems in online shopping sessions.

In addition, CSN is continuing to upgrade the software code underlying its ASP.net e-commerce platform and migrating toward the Microsoft SQL Enterprise Edition database platform. Now, instead of occasionally running into traffic bottlenecks that can slow site performance, CSN’s database system can more consistently handle simultaneous requests by shoppers for product content.

Boosting conversions

At CPA2Biz, the strategy this year is to build on the Blue Martini e-commerce platform from Escalate Retail installed in 2007. “We have seen a 20% increase in visitor-to-purchaser conversion rates year over year,” Rothchild says.

Rothchild chalks up the increase to several improvements CPA2Biz has made within the past two years. In addition to the Blue Martini e-commerce platform, which is being rebranded as Escalate e-Commerce, the retailer has also deployed site search and navigation technology from Endeca Technologies Inc., Salesforce.com as a customer relationship management application, and web analytics from Coremetrics. Earlier this year, it deployed a Bazaarvoice customer ratings and reviews application.

“We now have more value-add information on our product detail page, such as customer reviews and excerpts from other product pages, that help customers make easier on-the-spot buying decisions,” Rothchild says.

Still, deciding to deploy new technology this year has been tougher than usual, Rothchild adds. As an example she points to the retailer’s careful examination of Salesforce.com as a customer relationship management tool.

“We really scrutinized if it was necessary, including finding out what other retailers had paid for a similar deployment, as we considered if this was just a nice-to-have or something we had to have to build customer relationships,” says Mike McCarthy, vice president of engineering for CPA2Biz.

Before it makes more sizable technology investments, however, CPA2Biz will work on deploying more of the functionality in its existing applications to ensure it’s getting the most bang for its buck in the economic downturn, Rothchild says. In the Escalate e-Commerce platform, for instance, it will work with the vendor and its own I.T. staff to deploy a Relationship Management module that will provide shoppers more personalized offers.

“Rather than just cross-selling by showing ‘customers who bought this also bought that,’ we’ll be able to make a special offer, such as for a particular customer once she buys more than $500 in the past month,” she says. CPA2Biz is also considering the use a new Page Builder application within the Endeca software suite, which is designed to make it easier to pull in multiple types of content, including videos, to develop merchandising pages.

Customer experience

Improving the online shopping experience within a tight budget is also a key focus this year at 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. After noticing the economy starting to slow down in the fall of 2007, the floral, food and gifts retailer developed a three-part growth strategy: Taking care of existing customers, reducing operating costs, and pushing ahead with innovative retailing technology and processes, says president Chris McCann.

That meant choosing the right technology partners, and only after making a strong business case, he adds. 1-800-Flowers, which has long operated its multiple web sites on a homegrown e-commerce platform, began migrating to IBM Corp.’s WebSphere Commerce platform last fall, starting with The Popcorn Factory in its food and gifts group. It plans to eventually deploy WebSphere Commerce for all of its more than 12 retail web sites, providing a common shopping experience with robust customizing capabilities for its staff of more than 150 I.T. professionals, McCann says.

For a relatively short-term gain, it recently deployed on its flagship floral retail site 1-800-Flowers.com live chat from LivePerson Inc. and a consumer-generated ratings, reviews and stories platform from Bazaarvoice. The live chat application has already helped to improve conversion rates, and has attracted positive comments from customers who say they appreciate having the service available even if they haven’t yet used it, McCann says.

Bazaarvoice is supporting an innovative marketing promotion for Mother’s Day, the site’s biggest sales generator, says Vib Prasad, the retailer’s senior director of web merchandising. The promotion, Spotlight a Mom, lets customers compete to win free vacation trips by submitting stories about what makes their mom special. Winning stories are shown on the retailer’s home page, and anyone who views one of the stories can also use on-site applications to forward them to Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites.

As valuable as the LivePerson and Bazaarvoice applications have proven so far, however, 1-800-Flowers only agreed to test them after each vendor agreed to favorable terms. “They worked with us to make sure our cost to test their products was reasonable for us,” McCann says. He adds that the vendor also offered assistance in getting the most value out of their applications, such as the most productive times during shopping sessions to launch a live chat window. Too soon can overwhelm shoppers; too late doesn’t help, McCann says.

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