March 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Web analytics: The key to profitable online retailing

Just as web retailing is growing up, so are the services that support it. Nowhere is that truer than with web analytics. No longer the province of the tech department, the new breed of web analytics is easy to use for marketing and business managers, allows users to view results of activities outside of their own web site, such as marketing campaigns, gives retailers a cross-channel measure of customer activity, allows retailers to test marketing approaches and web site designs, and is available on an outsourced basis and as licensed software. “Web measurement tools are evolving along a continuum from simple page-hit counters to core business analysis applications,” observes Forrester Research Inc. analyst Bob Chatham in last year’s report “Why Web Site Analytics Matter.”

Research company IDC puts the total analytics market at $257.2 million last year, up 17% from the year before. It projects $417.9 million in 2007, 62% higher than last year, with compounded annual growth of 13.7% from 2001 to 2007. The market is fragmented with 19 vendors accounting for 63% of the market in 2002, IDC says. And while IDC reports that the five largest analytics providers controlled 44% of the market in 2002, up from 39% in 2001, enough small vendors are coming on strong to indicate an expanding market.

Ease of use

Because the web changes the speed with which retailers operate, ease of use is an important development as retailers want to know what’s happening and why—and they want to know it now. “The end user of web analytics has migrated from being in the IT department to being a marketing or business user,” says Rand Schulman, chief marketing officer of analytics provider WebSideStory Inc. “They tend to be slightly technophobic so it better be simple.”

Simplicity can take a number of forms. Often it starts with reports. Omniture Inc.’s Site Catalyst product, for instance, offers what it calls a click map which presents a graphical representation of what visitors did on a web site. It allows a web site manager to view the actual web page and monitor, by virtue of colors and dots on the page, where customers clicked and what actions they subsequently took. “It’s been a huge hit,” says John Mellor, vice president of marketing. “It’s one of the biggest reports that’s run on our system. People love to see how user traffic interacts with the web page.”

Even without graphical representation, analytics vendors are making reports easier to use and understand. NetIQ Corp.’s Webtrends product generates multi-dimension reports so a retailer can measure, for instance, new customers against repeat customers, track buying club members’ behavior against all other customers’, and organize customer actions into any variety of segments that can then be compared against one another. “We can create multi-dimensional reporting without the user having to go to multiple screens,” says Brent Hieggelke, vice president of marketing. “It’s very frustrating to have to go to five, six or seven reports to get the drill-down data that you need.”

WebSideStory’s new HBX—formerly Hitbox—product includes a dashboard that is designed to look like an automobile or airplane dashboard with data represented in analog gauges. “It yields very specific data at a glance,” Schulman says. WebSideStory, which IDC ranks as the largest pure-play analytics vendor and number 3 of all analytics vendors, also provides a site overlay for a representation of what’s happening at the site.

Ease of entry

Ease of viewing is only one aspect of easy-to-use reports, however. The other aspect is data entry, an area where analytics also have made strides. “We have the graphics in the dashboard. All the user needs to do is type in the thresholds,” Schulman says. “They can enter, for instance, the number of leads they got and the dollars they spent to get them, or any other metric they want to measure.”

Webtrends, whose parent NetIQ IDC ranks as the largest analytics vendor, also offers a dashboard with a simple user interface. “It’s a small appliance that can give high-level statistics,” says Jason Palmer, vice president of product marketing and product management. Among the statistics that top executives monitor frequently are sales, category sales, top products, page views and visits. “It’s very easy to produce the top 12 statistics that a senior level executive wants to look at throughout the day,” Palmer says.

At the same time that analytics are becoming easier to use, developers are also expanding analytics’ role. “For multi-channel retailers, a high percentage of the time their customers are touching them in multiple channels. It’s important for retailers to look at linkages between channels,” says Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results Inc. “If there is a different series of metrics in place for each channel, retailers run the risk of looking at each channel in isolation.”

ForeSee operates on a different basis from other analytics companies in that it bases its metrics on customer satisfaction through a process that requires direct input from customers and not information gleaned by how a customer behaves on a web site. It employs the American Customer Satisfaction Index methodology. Until now, it has conducted surveys of online users to gauge their satisfaction with the online experience. Now it is rolling out a new service that will employ other methods to measure satisfaction, such as POS data, customer interviews in stores, e-mail surveys and random phone calls to return a view of customer satisfaction across channels.

Cross-channel metrics are important, Freed says, to ensure that the channels get credit for the activities they generate. “An abandoned shopping cart may not be an abandoned purchase,” he says. “The customer may print out the cart, then go to the store to buy the item. But the web site gets no credit.”

Not just nice to have

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