August 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT:Improving the online shopping experience—one customer at a time

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ClickCadence takes a similar approach as its starting point. Its BeatBox appliance can capture all the data that a retailer needs to analyze user sessions, Dickey says. “We monitor the real performance of the web site and record every visitor, what they do, how long the pages take to load, and so on,” he says.

In that process, the BeatBox can filter out certain traffic and look for specific events, such as if the retailer wants to know when visitors viewed particular products, Dickey says. Once that process is completed, it then normalizes the information, that is, puts it into a standard format so it can be used in multiple reports, then aggregates the data, grouping multiple occurrences into blocks of time, for instance. “A retailer may not need to know every time someone lands at a page, but rather the number of times people landed at a particular page,” Dickey says. “With real-time processing of clickstream data, we collect, clean and filter as it’s being gathered and written to a disk.”

In addition, ClickCadence has integrated the BeatBox service with Quova, the geolocation service. The system can pinpoint a shopper’s city, state, country, network information, such as the user’s ISP, and the connection type-dial-up or broadband.

ClickCadence’s BeatBox is a monitoring box with a Linux-based operating system that taps into Internet browsers and servers. GSI Commerce, which operates more than 40 web sites for retailers who want to outsource their online operations, uses BeatBox to report customer behavior and system performance. With BeatBox, GSI eliminated web logs, which saved on storage costs while increasing server and network performance, the company says. It reports that offloading such tasks to BeatBox decreased server load by 30%.

Buy or rent

ClickCadence offers BeatBox in a number of ways. Customers can purchase it as an appliance that they install and maintain in their own data center at a cost of $50,000 plus 20% a year in ongoing maintenance. Back-up BeatBoxes cost $25,000 each, Dickey says.

It also offers BeatBox in managed service offerings. In its original managed service plan, a retailer rents a BeatBox at ClickCadence’s server center and contracts with ClickCadence to understand what to measure, how to evaluate what they learn and then how to create the reports needed to take action.

Its latest offering takes the managed service a step further and helps customers understand how to make the changes needed to improve site performance. “We found that customers have changing needs and needed help in what to look for and how to implement changes,” Dickey says. “There is a market for fully managed solutions.”

The entry level cost for fully managed services is $2,500 month, which will support up to 500,000 visits a day and includes one BeatBox. “We had customers who liked what we were doing, but didn’t want to spend upfront costs,” Dickey says. “They were looking for less risk upfront.”

The company expects that strategy will broaden the market for the BeatBox. “We’re opening our technology now so it’s available to the entirety of the market,” Dickey says.

Getting their data hands dirty

Customer reaction to the managed services offering has been very good, Dickey says, noting, however, that the company has 50 large retail sites that have bought BeatBox as an appliance. ClickCadence and BeatBox started as part of a larger company four years ago, but became independent in 2002, Dickey says. “We’ve had lots of success selling technology as an appliance for customers who want to do data warehousing and get their hands dirty,” he says.

Given that the web is an ever-changing environment, ClickCadence stresses the flexibility of the BeatBox and the ability it provides to retailers to change what they measure and how they measure as conditions change or situations develop. “Most retailers have something in mind they want to measure,” Dickey says. “But once they start measuring one thing, it inspires them to want to measure something else and it becomes an iterative process. The more you have, the more you want to know.”

Retailers can make changes as they go, he adds. “You can change the reports and the data you collect on the fly without changes to the web site,” Dickey says. “You don’t have to create new reports or put in new tags. You just tell your BeatBox you want to collect different data.”

Outsource delivery-and measure

Mirror Image Internet approaches web site performance issues from two points of view. On the one hand, it provides the means for retailers to deliver content that will engage shoppers and make them more likely to make a purchase. On the other hand, it offers a service that allows retailers to view the performance of Mirror Image’s network. “You have to use a measurement tool to make sure the site performs way you want it to perform and make sure the network lives up to its claims,” Hammond says.

Mirror Image employs Internet monitoring company Keynote Systems as part of its service-level agreements with clients. “We are providing an industry-leading SLA by employing a third party to monitor our performance,” Hammond says.

Mirror Image operates a network of 21 what it calls “content access points” around the world from which it distributes content and logic for web-based customers. Among the retail and consumer brands it counts as customers are such well known names as Sears, Roebuck and Co., Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., Lillian Vernon Corp., Orvis Co. Inc., LEGO and Hasbro. Others are in the pipeline. “We’ve seen strong growth in the past four to six months,” says Frank Brilliant, Mirror Image’s vice president of sales and marketing. Brilliant says traffic on Mirror Image’s network grew threefold over the last quarter vs. the prior quarter.

Hammond says the company’s foundation is the ability to distribute content across the globe, provide performance stability and protect sites from being overwhelmed by flash crowds. “Our clients no longer have to build out a large infrastructure,” he says. “It’s always hard to build sites to the largest need you think you’ll have, Christmas, for instance.”

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