May 13, 2009

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eTailers Start Prepping for Black Friday 2009 Prepping your eCommerce site for Black Friday is as much a Rite of Spring for e-tailers as daffodils in bloom, the start of hay fever season or the run-up to Mother's Day, Father's Day and Graduation. This year "optimiization" is on the minds of the 190 senior executives responding to the e-Tailing Group's 8th annual merchant Survey. These executives charged with leading the only real bright spot in the retail landscape are looking for the tactics and investments that are the cheapest to implement and convert the most customers fastest while delivering a satisfactory online experience. How do I know this? auren Freedman told me. Lauren, who leads the Chicago-based e-Tailing Group, is the doyenne and the den mother of eCommerce merchants. Twice a year she surveys the waterfront. This 8th annual survey asks operating executives what they think. It is the sweetheart part. Her ten year old mystery shopping survey is a hard, cold, gut wrenching reality check that many of these same executives live in fear of because she measures the distance between their talk and their walk. In between Lauren and her gang consult with many of the top and insurgent online brands. If anyone knows what's really going on in online commerce; Lauren does. eCommerce is the only part of retail showing any kind of growth and even those projections are modest. But Lauren says "management is growing somewhat dissatisfied with ROI and dropping conversion rates." Therefore according to the survey results year-over-year the top three strategic focal points for merchants are 1) greater emphasis on profitability, 2) improving KPIs and 3) applying the right resources. The objective in this recession-tossed year is profitability; defined as making your revenue and margin goals PLUS doing it in the most financially efficient way possible. Evidently eCommerce is well enough established as a channel that it must adhere to the same tough metrics that govern retail plan-o-grams and deliver the same kinds of measurable returns. As merchants cull through the lessons from last Christmas and look ahead, they are looking to bet smaller budgets on key moves to increase revenues, drive greater conversions and keep customers loyal, happy and coming back. If you have a choice of where to put your chips, Lauren believes these tactics will yield the greatest bang for your buck: 1. Segment and target e-mail better. Most merchants are already running sophisticated outbound e-mail programs. An incremental data mining effort will yield a disproportionate result. 2. Buy better on-site search. More than half of shoppers immediately hit the search box when they land on your home page. The better the search function; the faster they find what they want and the faster they buy. Similarly the faster they find what they want; the happier they are and the more people they tell about your site. And while search tools are not necessarily cheap, there are many work arounds so that even a modest upgrade in on-site search will produce a sales spike. 3. Improve merchandising. Show more, enable shop-by-outfit, use video if you can afford it, allow shoppers to "view in a room" or store merchandise under consideration. And while the tactics will change based on the category you are in; this is about enhancing the experience and giving customers greater control over how they shop. At some point in the near future sharp search, video and even social shopping will become industry standards. The closer you can get today; the more productive your customers will be. Interestingly, Lauren's advice jibes directly with a survey of 22,699 direct marketers done by Target Marketing Magazine in January 2009, that ranked e-mail, direct mail, natural and paid search and web advertising as the most popular tools for customer acquisition and the tactics that would draw the greatest added budget investments in 2009. Other site features that can contribute to conversion and customer satisfaction are, says Lauren, more guided and sign-posted navigation and alternative payment forms. Customers too are looking for maximum purchasing power and satisfaction for minimum bucks. Anything you can do to show them the path to the goods, put together outfits for them and help them manage payments by using PayPal, billing it to their phone bills or their checking accounts or accepting debit or stored value cards helps move more merchandise out the door. In a monkey-see; monkey-do business like retail, smart online merchants keep an eye on the EGEG (the E-tailing Group E-Commerce Gauge) sort of an EKG for e-tailing, which found that...
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The B2B Database Dipstick Report Lists are the bane of database marketers existence. Everyone thinks their own data sucks but the real disappointment usually comes when you rent a compiled list and realize they suck too. Everyone wonders why this is but few have done anything about it -- till now. Ruth Stevens and Bernice Grossman have been writing white papers on database marketing since 2005. Both are well known independent thinkers and marketers with extensive direct marketing and database chops. For their seventh outing they devised a wickedly simple test titled "Online Sources of B-to-B Data: A Comparative Analysis" to understand the limitations of compiled lists. They convinced ten database compilers to participate and asked them to find 10 selected executives from 10 different industry verticals in their databases. It was a dip stick exercise to quickly measure the coverage and quality of leading databases. The vendors ranged from big data houses to online cooperatives. All have online ordering capabilities which generally means they are willing to deal in small lots and/or niche verticals. Bottom line -- when they had your data it was pretty accurate, though coverage was spotty across databases. In addition the study turned up a bunch of surprising results: There was a wide variance in company and contact counts. In one category -- stone, clay and glass products -- company counts ranged from 386 on one database to 36,382 on another. Email addresses were the hardest datapoint to find. Unfortunately these days its the datapoint most in demand. When a vendor had your record, there was a good chance of accuracy. But many vendors didn't have the 10 executives in their database. In the worst case only 2 of ten vendors could find Jim Carey of Northwestern University. Maybe its a subtle hint about academics. C level names seemed to be evident in more databases than lower ranking players. This could speak to the method of compilation. So what's a B2B marketer to do? Bernice and Ruth recommend these steps. 1. Quiz the vendors on what they have and how they got it. 2. Don't assume subsidiaries of large compilers have the same data or use the same compilation or cleansing techniques. They don't. Ask. 3. Be very specific when placing list or database orders. Use SIC codes or other tools to keep 'em honest and to be sure you get what you thought you ordered. 4. Check for industry or vertical specialization. Test their coverage before you buy. Shop for the vendor who has the best data on your target audience. 5. Run a data append test before you buy to test coverage and accuracy and to compare multiple vendors. Build in some house names that you know for sure as an accuracy benchmark. Better yet buy a small number of names and verify the data yourself by phone before you place a bigger order. There's about 12 million companies in the USA and evidently getting to someone in them still isn't easy as you think it might be. These kind of exercises help us understand the realities and limits of databases which in turn drive our thinking on how best to use the data we can get our hands on.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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