April 28, 2006, 12:00 AM

What your web site can tell you

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HaleGroves.com, which tracks revenues per affiliate relationship as a way to maximize marketing dollars and control acquisition costs, has discovered that it is best to limit its affiliate marketing. “We know that when people first come to us, they usually are not ready to buy,” says Lazorisak. “Having a key measuring platform in place really helps us to know where best to spend our marketing dollars.”

8. Use Analytics to Make E-mail Marketing More Effective

Populating e-mail with content of importance to each customer is another no-brainer, but something that often gets short shrift because retailers tend to think they need to give away marketing dollars to make e-mail effective.

The whole aim is to drive traffic without increasing marketing costs through discounts. In some cases, information about a product previously viewed or notification that an item on a wish list is close to selling out or being discontinued, can spark a sale. Offers can be sweetened by playing up applicable promotions already going on, such as free shipping. Finding which promotions work best is achieved through A/B testing. “A/B testing lets you measure the effectiveness and revenue per acquisition to identify the best performing campaign before it rolls out,” says Lazorisak. “That’s very valuable.”

Analytics can also help determine the life span of a promotion by identifying the first hints of when it starts to lose momentum. At that point, retailers can opt to tweak it or prepare to immediately implement a new promotion once the existing one no longer generates worthwhile revenue.

9. Manage Customer Category Movement

Consumers may purchase from multiple categories, but there is no reason to let them run around a web site putting together an outfit when they don’t have to. Analytics help merchants identify buying patterns as customers move across categories, enabling retailers to more effectively cross-sell items.

Suggesting a ski outfit to a consumer who has put a ski jacket, gloves, and related accessories into a cart can not only increase the size of the sale, but result in a more satisfied customer. “Customers will buy in one category and often browse another during the same session, so there is a lot of opportunity for cross-selling,” says Belkin.

Retailers can also use analytics data to determine if a repeat visit is likely soon. By analyzing customer movement and behavior within its site, DesignerLinensOutlet.com determined that many customers were likely to make a return visit within a specified period. The retailer now sends special offers to entice customers with those characteristics back to the site sooner. “The patterns in customer behavior have helped overall marketing and revenues per marketing dollar,” says Designer Linens Direct’s Dantz.

It also helps to know your product, she adds. As a retailer specializing in closeout items, DesignerLinensOutlet.com rarely suggests items during a repeat visit due to its high turnover of inventory. “It’s pretty tough to recommend something after the first sale, because what made sense to cross-sell at the time may no longer be available at a later date,” adds Dantz.

10. Find Out Why Shoppers Are Not Checking Out

Nothing is more frustrating to retailers than getting a customer into checkout, only to have her abandon the process. Analytics can pinpoint where the customer dropped out. Once all the pieces are known, the retailer can determine whether the process is too long, too cumbersome or does not provide enough data at the point the customer appears ready to buy.

The last is critical, because information about return policies, date of shipping, and customer service contacts provide comfort for the customer. So does automatically populating data fields, such as mailing address, for repeat customers. “There are key elements customers need to feel comfortable with to get through checkout,” says Raisch. “Understanding these in detail can cut abandonment.”

Still, providing a comfort zone won’t drive checkout abandonment to zero, which is why some retailers watch checkout in real time. This technique is not so much for identifying potential problems, but more for saving sales. Capturing the data on what was in the customer’s cart at the time can open the door to a follow-up e-mail promotion.

For such follow-up programs to be successful, of course, the customer had to have provided an e-mail address before abandonment. Once in possession of that data, the retailer can send e-mails pitching discounts on items that were in the cart as a way to encourage a return visit. Even without an address, retailers can ID the customer by cookies on a return visit and offer a similar promotion then. “Knowing what’s in a cart at the time of abandonment is a great way to create targeted promotions,” says Coremetrics’ Paolucci.

Avoid the one-dimensional

Applying web site analytics is a complex undertaking. Understanding the results can be even more daunting. But that understanding is essential to a web site’s success. “The true value of analytics is understanding the insights provided by the numbers,” says DesignerLinensOutlet.com’s Dantz. “Assigning a value to each metric is one dimensional.”

And as retailers know, multi-dimensional thinking is the key to keeping their web site performing at the highest level. l

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

How to hear what your web site is trying to say

1. Study Site Search Results-and Non-Results

2. Optimize the Home Sweet Home Page

3. Know What Works on Landing Pages

4. Use the Shopping Cart for More Than Just Checkout

5. Look at the Look-to-Book Ratio

6. Understand How Shoppers View Cookies

7. Know Affiliate and Search Engine Marketing ROI

8. Use Analytics to Make E-mail Marketing More Effective

9. Manage Customer Category Movement

10. Find Out Why Shoppers Are Not Checking Out

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