May 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Best targeting practices

Web retailers find ways to lure visitors, even first-timers, back for a second look.

Lead Photo

With all that e-retailers do to drive brand awareness and traffic to their web stores, nearly 98 out of every 100 consumers who visit an e-retail site leave without making a purchase. That represents a lot of unmade sales, and plenty of wasted marketing spending.

Seeking to improve those results, e-retailers are honing their skills at reaching out to consumers who visit but leave without buying. Some are using newer online advertising systems to show ads, sometimes with videos, on other web sites as visitors to their sites move around the web. Others put site visitors' data to work in other ways, in some cases months later, using that information to present a relevant offer to a shopper.

These methods for following up with site visitors fall into two categories: retargeting and remarketing.

Retargeting is a form of behavioral advertising that shows consumers who leave an e-retail site advertisements elsewhere on the web for that e-retailer. This method lets e-retailers market to consumers they don't necessarily recognize—shoppers who have not previously purchased or signed up for e-mails—via ads based on that individual's on-site behavior. Retargeting campaigns commonly use display ads to remind the consumer of the brand and sometimes of the particular items he viewed while on the site or left in his shopping cart. Top e-retailers that use retargeting include Overstock.com Inc., eBags Inc., Karmaloop Inc. and Charlotte Russe Holding Inc.

Remarketing, meanwhile, can be used when a consumer an e-retailer already knows visits the site, puts products in his cart and leaves without buying. With e-mail remarketing, sometimes called cart abandonment e-mails, the e-retailer uses the consumer's previously shared e-mail address and sends him one or more e-mail messages that try to get him to return and complete his shopping. 14.6% of e-retailers listed in Internet Retailer's Top 500 Guide and Second 500 Guide use e-mail remarketing, according to an analysis by digital marketing services vendor Listrak.

Combining the two

Icon Health & Fitness, the manufacturer and e-retailer behind such exercise equipment brands as NordicTrack and ProForm, uses both retargeting and remarketing to help move consumers through the buying process, says Jared Pratt, customer relationship management director. When a consumer visits an Icon-brand e-retail site and leaves, he'll see ads for that brand's web site elsewhere on the web.

Pratt says consumers' buying cycle for exercise equipment is 30 to 45 days, and that the point of using retargeting ads early is to keep the visited brand in consumers' consideration set as they research products. Then if a consumer returns, places a product in the shopping cart but abandons before completing checkout, Icon will use the consumer's e-mail address, which the consumer is required to submit on the first page of the checkout process, and send him messages that urge him to contact customer service to get whatever product or checkout issue he had resolved. Icon also will send e-mails to cart abandoners if the consumer has submitted his e-mail address to the e-retailer another way, such as registering for a newsletter or engaging in live chat.

"Because we've identified these people as being ready to buy, we know they are going to buy something somewhere," Pratt says. "We need to be there with the best tools, the best offers and the most specific information that we can give based on what they've given us. The vast majority of our conversions occur within a 48-hour window after consumers put items in the cart." Pratt declined to reveal the cart abandonment e-mail conversion rate for Icon brands but says he considers them successful, based on industry benchmarks Icon tracks. Icon works with SeeWhy Inc., a vendor of technology that helps retailers retarget consumers who leave items in online shopping carts.

Sales cycles vary for different types of products, so what works for Icon and its long sales cycle won't necessarily work for another e-retailer. "You time these messages with the purchase cycle of your specific customer," Pratt says.

E-retailers focused on turning abandoners into buyers say they've tried different techniques to find the right formula for them and for their customers. Based on their experience, here are four tips other e-retailers can try.

1 – Enhance the interaction

Office supply retailer Office Depot Inc. presents retargeted ads containing videos to consumers who place an item in their cart on OfficeDepot.com but don't buy, says Nicole Fraley, senior manager of online advertising. For instance, 15- or 30-second retargeted video ad appears on sites like Hulu.com before the movie or TV show the consumer intends to watch, what's known as a pre-roll advertisement. The ad shows the consumer the product he put in his cart along with details like price and customer reviews.

The videos are created on the fly by retargeting technology vendor SundaySky, which uses templates that incorporate the individual product details. "The coolest thing is the dynamic nature of it, we're able to bring in customer reviews and pricing, whereas our banners that are less dynamic in nature you don't have that type of experience," Fraley says. Ads can appear elsewhere on the web just minutes after the customer leaves his cart behind and remain active for 30 days.

The remarketing e-mails Icon Health & Fitness sends cart abandoners contain a live chat link that connects consumers with customer service agents, Pratt says. The e-retailer, through a link between its cart abandonment e-mail service provider SeeWhy and its live chat vendor LivePerson, can also see if the cart abandoner previously chatted with an agent. If he has, the retailer can include some of those talking points in the remarketing e-mail to make it more personal. "Using that level of detail from the previous conversation to fine-tune the remarketing messages helps continue the conversation with consumers right where they are in the buying process," Pratt says.

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