June 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Eye-opening technologies for today’s e-retailing

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Channel Intelligence, which offers online marketing services to retailers, has developed a display solution to meet this need, allowing retailers and other advertisers to improve display ad performance through sophisticated retargeting methods. The two main ingredients to this innovative solution are user tracking and dynamic ad generation.

“Retargeting is an excellent tool to drive performance for advertisers, but in most cases, such efforts are still based on a general set of rules applied equally to the entire audience,” says Jeff Allums, director of performance advertising for Channel Intelligence. “Our display advertising solution gives retailers and other advertisers the ability to track user behavior within a web site and to segment users based on that behavior.”

Personalized service

Using personalization technologies to draw customers to a web site is only half the battle. Retailers need to be thinking about how to apply personalization to customer service to proactively help consumers that need more information to make a purchasing decision or appear to be debating whether to buy.

Live chat can be used to reach out to consumers while they are browsing, much in the same way a bricks-and-mortar store employee might ask a shopper if she needs assistance, to add a personal touch to customer service.

Consumers respond favorably to live chat because it allows them to drive the pace of the interaction with the customer service representative. Retailers find it beneficial because their service representatives can monitor consumer movement through the site and send an offer to chat when a consumer appears to be stuck on a page or has removed an item from his shopping chart.

“Live chat is a way to proactively aid shoppers on a personal level,” says Steve Castro-Miller, president and CEO of Bold Software LLC, provider of the BoldChat live chat product, as well as click-to-call and e-mail management applications. “It’s a great way of starting a dialogue with the web consumer, much like an in-store sales representative does.”

How a service representative interacts through live chat or over the phone with a consumer can make the difference between closing a sale and losing one. Speech analytics, a process by which customer service calls are recorded and analyzed, help retailers evaluate the consumer interaction by cataloging the words used in the conversation.

A consumer that contacts a customer service agent and during the course of the conversation mentions she has seen the same item at a lower price from a competing web retailer has provided a major clue about how she shops online, as well as making clear she wants the retailer to match the competitor’s price. By tracking that information retailers can put rules in place that allow service agents to match a competitor’s price or beat it by a certain dollar amount to close the sale, if need be.

“Tracking and analyzing what consumers say when talking to a service agent is important because it provides a lot of clues about what they want and need to make the purchasing decision,” says Tom Davis, CEO of USA 800, provider of inbound call center services. “Once retailers understand what those clues are, they can put strategies in place to help service representatives interact with consumers on a deeper level.”

Post-sale marketing

Maintaining contact with the customer after the purchase is just as important as reaching out to them during the shopping process because it helps generate future sales, which further help justify the cost of acquiring the customer. Creating personalized e-mail messages based on a consumer’s past behavior or purchases allows retailers to show consumers products that are likely to bring them back to the site, such as accessories to an item recently purchased or new arrivals likely to be of interest.

MyBuys Inc., provider of personalized product recommendation services, for example, creates e-mail campaigns for clients that highlight items related to an item a consumer recently purchased but that the customer did not view previously, or promotions around an item the shopper may have viewed, but did not purchase. The subject line includes a call to action, such as “Equipment to get you ready for the upcoming golf season.”

Shoppers that have not returned to the retailer’s site in a several weeks can be sent e-mails promoting top sellers or seasonal items that are likely to have appeal based on the consumers’ product preferences.

“Personalization drives a lot of value in e-mail remarketing campaigns,” says Bob Cell, CEO of MyBuys. “Consumers are only going to give a retailer so many clicks, so personalization becomes a critical component of any remarketing campaign. Without personalizing the e-mail, the odds are that the customer will view the message as spam, which degrades the value of the retailer’s brand.”

A personalized e-mail remarketing campaign can boost revenues from e-mail marketing between 5% and 10% Cell adds.

Pass it on

One new twist to personalized e-mail is for retailers to send an e-mail with a personalized offer designed to encourage the customer to spread the offer virally to friends and family who have not previous purchased from the retailer but who the consumer knows are interested in its products. The strategy, known as group shopping, can vastly expand the reach of a personalized e-mail promotion.

An electronics retailer, for instance, can e-mail an offer for 20% off its best-selling LCD flat-screen television to customers it knows have an interest in purchasing the product. The offer is personalized to the individual customer with the caveat that they can only take advantage of the deal if they find 50 friends interested in purchasing the product within an hour.

The e-mail includes a link to a page where consumers receiving the e-mail virally can register to receive the deal. If 50 or more consumers respond to the e-mail within the specified time and agree to make the purchase, the group receives the discount. Retailers can also include the offer in site search results as a way to reach new consumers looking for a deal on a specific product.

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