April 28, 2006, 12:00 AM

What your web site can tell you

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4. Use the Shopping Cart for More Than Just Checkout

The shopping cart is no longer just a vehicle to get customers to and through checkout; it is a shopping tool. If a consumer puts an item in a shopping cart, then takes it out, or worse, leaves it in the cart, but abandons the cart, odds are the retailer is not using the cart as shopping tool. A leading reason for cart abandonment is that consumers get distracted by jumping to other pages after clicking on a item in the cart for review.

Analytics can tell a retailer when that is happening. “Retailers need to examine the clickstreams within the cart to identify where people drop off, if they put a removed item in a wish list, and whether they come back if they jump to another page,” says Jane Paolucci, vice president of marketing for Coremetrics.

There is no reason to transport the customer from the cart when pop-ups can deliver the information on the product to be reviewed. The same concept can be applied when it comes to initiating checkout through the cart, only instead, shoppers are fed cross-sell or up-sell items that can be added to the cart without moving to another page.

Another key data point that can transform the cart into a shopping tool is keeping a running tally that includes tax and shipping costs to prevent sticker shock at checkout. Armed with this information, consumers can better manage the items in their cart if they are on a budget and complete a sale, rather than abort it later. “Sometimes consumers need a larger picture of the shopping experience to enhance it and increase conversion,” says Josh Manion, CEO of Stratigient. “Providing that can create a greater value for the customer with each visit.”

5. Look at the Look-to-Book Ratio

Because so many elements feed into the broad-based look-to-book metric, retailers are best served by examining trends and putting them into historical perspective. HaleGroves.com typically does a lot of business around the holidays. With Easter falling in April in 2006, as opposed to March in 2005, the company knows to temper its view of the browser-to-buyer ratio when comparing the weekly data from those two months year-to-year. The company also has a lot of browsers at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and knows that conversion rates will pick up substantially beginning in late November.

“It’s important to step back and view visits in context,” Lazorisak says. “Some holidays fall on different weeks of the month each year and other periods are prone to high browser ratios. Data patterns provide insights and can make the difference between trusting your data and panicking.”

Data patterns are but one clue to improving look-to-book ratios. The number of times a consumer views a product before buying it, or not, can tell retailers such things as whether the item is over-priced compared to the competition, whether the Add to Cart button is visible or whether the customer got distracted after linking to a related page. Items with high view rates, but low add-to-cart rates are in need of close scrutiny from all angles.

“The aim is to understand the conversion process,” says Jason Palmer, vice president of products for WebTrends Inc. “Identifying customers that do a lot of research before buying can help retailers create a more engaging experience that converts a higher percentage of them faster.”

6. Understand How Shoppers View Cookies

Cookies are what make it possible to recognize a return customer, but with the proliferation of spyware applications on shoppers’ computers, having an analytics vendor attach a cookie on behalf of a retailer no longer makes sense. Spyware will automatically block third-party cookies, meaning that repeat customers lose all recognition of that status each time they return to your site.

Few repeat customers like losing bookmarked pages, wish lists or checkout data they thought was stored due to a blocked cookie. The solution is for the retailer to attach a first-party cookie. “As the use of spyware on computers proliferates, retailers are going to have a harder time retaining a memory of their customer’s visits,” says WebTrends’s Palmer.

DesignerLinensOutlet.com, which recently switched to a first-party cookie, reduced the number of rejected cookie attachments by 95%, while enjoying a 45% gain in return visitors. “It’s a huge benefit to be able to leverage our own cookie,” says Beverly Dantz, marketing specialist for Designer Linens Outlet Direct.

Dantz adds the new cookie has provided insights into how the company can spend marketing dollars more effectively.

7. Know Affiliate and Search Engine Marketing ROI

Retailers pay plenty for these services, so they’d better know the actual cost. That means accurately tracking how many times a customer comes to a site through the same affiliate or search engine and what she does once she gets there.

Too often, a customer shopping at an online store gets directed there through an affiliate only to be directed back to the same site through another affiliate when searching for a different item. “A lot of retailers are unaware they pay three to four times over to acquire a single customer through these channels,” says Omniture’s Belkin. “Retailers need to understand what customers buy once they have visited their site and move the relationship away from the affiliate to themselves.”

That means taking a close look at the affiliate through which the customer came to the site and the keywords entered into the search engine that landed them with the affiliate in the first place. Next, retailers can focus on pushing other items likely to be of interest to the customer via e-mail, if only to let the customer know they have an extensive and varied inventory.

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