September 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Target Practice

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In addition to e-mail and text messaging, uses yet another retargeting method. When a shopper who has added an item to his cart clicks away, a window pops up asking him if he would like a live chat session to discuss the product he's considering buying. UpSellIt also provides this technology.

"We have numerous preloaded answers for customer questions," Jones says. "We have over time learned there are a lot of standard questions, about things like shipping, delivery time and such; 80% of questions are ones asked over and over again. If the person asks a question we have not built in, it directs her to a live chat representative."

Live chat has proven the most effective of the retargeting methods, Jones says. In fact, it's the retailer's largest revenue generator after paid search.

"A lot of people abandon carts because they have a question, not because they don't want the product or worry about price," he says. "They don't know how long it's going to take to ship, they don't know if the site is secure enough. If they can get answers to that, they will turn around quickly and continue with the process."

But once a consumer leaves an e-commerce site and is off to the vast wilderness of the Internet, it's anybody's game. But a retailer can step in and make its voice heard. This is where online display ad retargeting comes in.

A retailer works with an ad network or agency to buy inventory, spaces where ads are placed on a web site, on publishers' sites within an ad network. Ad networks can include from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of sites. When a shopper on an e-commerce site gets an anonymous cookie and later leaves the site, the cookie can follow the shopper on sites within the ad network and then strategically place ads for the e-commerce site on sites the shopper visits.

This is the retargeting strategy perfume and cologne e-retailer Scentiments is taking. But it's doing so with a twist: Rather than use one or a handful of standard online display ads, it's personalizing each ad it places—paying for it on a cost-per-click basis—based on a shopper's behavior.

Product recommendations and personalization technology provider MyBuys Inc. generates recommendations on It now has taken the technology a step further and operates a display ad unit where ads are created on the fly, incorporating not only products abandoned in carts but other products recommended to go with the originals.

"I'm on my site all the time, helping customers, making sure displays and descriptions are correct, and so on. And one day I got retargeted myself," says Howard Wyner, CEO and chief of e-business at Scentiments. "I had been looking at a product called Light Blue for Women by Dolce & Gabana. Later, on another site, I got a Scentiments ad recommending Ed Hardy for Women. I saw it first hand and decided right then that this retargeting was good stuff."

Very good stuff, it turned out. The just-completed beta test showed a more than 600% return on ad spend. Consequently, Wyner plans to continue the retargeting strategy.

"When you're talking about customers and their web experiences, it's very important to convey messages in a personalized manner. You need to show you're not just speaking to them generically but that you care about what they're interested in," Wyner says. "They are savvy enough to know what's going on when they're followed around the web by generic ads; so, if you can communicate with them on a very personal basis, you are going to make a strong connection, and you are going to realize a much better return on ad spend."

But some experts believe many consumers are not yet that savvy about remarketing, and when they gain more awareness, remarketing could suffer if some consumers deem the method intrusive.

Will consumers catch on?

"Over time it has the potential to become less effective," says Timothy Cascio, senior digital strategist at Bader Rutter & Associates, a multichannel marketing and consulting firm. "Most recipients of remarketed ads today, for instance, don't necessarily realize what is going on. But with time perhaps that might change."

In the meantime, retargeting is likely to grow in use because many Internet retailers have yet to encounter the tactic—which may explain why something that has generated good results for some e-retailers is not more widely used.

"There is a lack of awareness of remarketing," Cascio says. "There are so many changes in the digital space right now that people aren't effectively keeping up with all of it. For example, I've run AdWords campaigns for years and every time I get in there, there is something new being offered. The pace is fast and your average marketer is not able to keep up."

But they're likely to catch up, as they have with other forms of digital marketing. Ultimately, retargeting can be a quick and easy tool to help reconnect with customers that have shown they were ready to buy but need a little more convincing. Retailers can use retargeting in any of its forms to make their case—and possibly make another sale.

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