Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
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Rodkey says having data that extends back through history is important: the more data, the better the ability to justify decisions on future direction. Even so, the gains from the new analytics package were more than a fair trade for the loss of the earlier data, he believes. "We had been spending so much on marketing campaigns that just getting that under control saved us money every month," he explains. Within five months of implementing Coremetrics, Ace Mart was saving about 25% on marketing campaigns by identifying and eliminating non-performing keywords and upping its spend on better-converting terms. At the end of five months, it had trimmed its 800-word keyword program by half.
A key driver
Functionality was a key driver in Ace Mart`s decision to switch analytics vendors, but it wasn`t the only one. Rodkey says the rest of what swung the deal was having an account analyst available at the new vendor to answer questions and make recommendations based on best practices. "You can get a ton of data in those reports and it can be hard to make a decision, I don`t care what vendor you are using," says Rodkey. "Having someone there to walk you through the process, show you how to spot a trend, and how to build reports pertinent to your business is invaluable."
Indeed, Forrester says, with many marketers wrestling with that same issue, "Education and account management are becoming a more prominent feature in vendor sales pitches." Representing only 10% to 20% of a typical analytics vendor`s revenue today, vendors may someday derive half their revenue from professional services, Forrester predicts.
Customer support is part of what keeps the three web sites of apparel maker Guess with its current analytics vendor, WebSideStory. "A lot of vendors will say, this differentiates us or that differentiates us. I have found the differentiating factor to be a great working relationship," says Mike Relich, senior vice president and CIO at Guess. Relich adds that not only is support available when he wants it, but his recommendations on product improvements are carefully reviewed by the vendor; he knows because he`s seen some of his recommendations implemented in new releases of the package.
Relich`s opinion is that most analytics vendors collect the same amount of data, so given that, his decision to switch to WebSideStory from another vendor eight months ago had more to do with two other factors that drive such decisions: how the tool presents the data, and pricing.
When choosing a vendor, it`s important to consider who will be using the analytics data and how often. "People at the highest level just want a quick overview. But if you are a merchant using the data daily, the interface becomes very important," he says. In comparison to other vendors he reviewed, Relich finds WebSideStory`s interface easier to use. "I have a dashboard that I can pull up that shows every relevant statistic. It allows me to put specific goals in place and know where I am in relation to those goals," he says.
Relich`s view that data collection was roughly equal among the vendors he considered also pushed the pricing question higher in his considerations. It`s why Guess steered clear of another vendor whose interface it also liked, which Relich estimates would have cost Guess 25% to 30% more than the solution it chose. "I just didn`t think it justified the expense," he says. Today Guess spends about 10% more for analytics across the three web sites it now operates than it did with the former vendor, which supported only one site.
If retailers believe functionality is approximately equal, the appeal of the user interface is a matter of personal preference, and the importance of pricing falls somewhere in between depending on individual circumstances, what other criteria are they using in evaluating analytics vendors? With approximately 80 vendors now fighting for a piece of the market, shakeout and consolidation are likely, so it`s no surprise many are also weighing factors such as a vendor`s longevity and future prospects.
Longer-established market leaders may have the benefit of maturity that`s served to refine the collection and presentation of data beyond the offering of a smaller upstart. If they`re also better capitalized, they`re less likely to evaporate or become candidates for acquisition, which could raise questions around data integration, migration, or new technology. On the other hand, newer players may be in the marketplace precisely because they`ve developed a novel approach that differentiates them from the competition.
"It`s the $64,000 question for analysts. Do you guide clients away from technologies that are new and unproven because they may have less robust funding strategies than some of the established vendors? If you just go with the market leaders, then what about some of the innovative technology that`s emerging elsewhere?" says Peterson.
Taking a chance
Nine months ago, online jeweler Ice.com took the plunge to become an early customer of a then little-known analytics software vendor, Visual Sciences, its fourth analytics solution in five years. Compared with analytics vendors such as NetIQ Corp.`s WebTrends, Visual Sciences is a much newer player. Founded in 2000, it`s kept a lower profile than some, but what helped close the deal for Ice.com was that Visual Sciences offered two things Ice.com hadn`t found in other vendors it considered at the time. They were the ability to do A/B testing in simultaneous segments so it could push out winning promotions and messaging more quickly, and the ability to see campaign conversion and clickstream data in one visually compelling user interface.
Executive vice president of marketing and co-founder Pinny Gniwisch says Ice.com did consider Visual Science`s position as a relative newcomer and its prospects for the long haul, concerns he says were allayed by its knowledge of other retailers who were having a good experience with the company`s installed software product. "It was a question of feeling, belief and trust," he says. "The worst thing that could happen was, it wouldn`t work." To cover that contingency, Ice kept its other analytics solution in place for a time after it implemented Visual Science`s analytics.