HEAD: Keeping score on e-commerce surfing

If your on-line sales are sagging despite your best efforts to produce a dynamic, interactive Web site, then Shannon Ryan wants to talk to you.

The CEO of Buystream.com believes he has the electronic remedy to quell those on-line sales blues – Buystream Merchant (BSM), a strategic intelligence software package that tracks visit-to-buy ratios on e-commerce sites and actively optimizes the visitor experience to close more sales on the Web. Ergo, e-tailers get to know on-line visitors while developing their Web sites to match customers’ technical capabilities. Ryan said the result is an increase in sales and a greater sense of customer loyalty.

“In the e-commerce world or in any retail environment, to be successful you have to identify a pain,” he said. “The pain in the e-commerce world is less than two per cent of everyone who visits a Web site actually buys anything; 75 per cent of all (on-line) shopping carts are abandoned.”

Specifically, BSM – the second in a suite of offerings from the Ottawa-based company – monitors the factors that affect on-line purchasing behaviour. Aspects such as TechnoClusters (the grouping of on-line surfers by browser capability), loyalty, time zone, time of day and language preference are all considered. The software then aggregates this data into easy-to-use and easy-to-understand HTML reports that are accessible from the client’s Web browser, and can be tailored to create daily, weekly, monthly or tri-monthly reports.

“A whole market has been established to drive (on-line) traffic – all the banner ads, the networks, they all focus on driving traffic, but very few people have focused on converting them to buyers once they come to a Web site,” he said. “Most Web sites out there are focused on market share rather than profitability. At the end of the day, the one statistic that matters if you’re a business is, are you profitable?”

The software can also spell out how well a site closes sales, why some visitors buy and others don’t, and what businesses can do to convert more visitors into buyers.

“We’re trying to understand what’s happening on your Web site,” Ryan explained. “Fundamentally, what we’re talking about is the difference between stats and intelligence…products like Web Trends and Log Analysis provide a statistical report of what happened on your Web site – the same way your accountant gives you a balance sheet at the end of every month. It doesn’t tell you how to make your business any better, and that’s the difference between statistics and intelligence.”

Other key features of the program include point-and-click access to actionable, real-time information for site optimization and built-in thresholds which automatically alert clients to opportunities to increase revenues and to potential roadblocks in closing sales – such as slow download time for most visitors.

“The Internet is less about precision and more about speed, so you want to present the value proposition as quickly as possible and as clearly as possible,” Ryan said.

TechnoClustering runs on the same principle as retailers sizing up whether or not a customer is likely to make a purchase based on the quality of their clothing. On the Internet, a high-level browser with every available plug-in is the equivalent of a new silk suit.

“There’s a close correlation between technology and buying behaviour,” he said. “This gives you a new-world predictor for purchasing.”

Sasha Pave, director of technical design for Lot21 Interactive Advertising Group Inc. in San Francisco, said one of the reasons his agency chose BSM was that it considers the browsing atmosphere.

“Lot21 chose to offer our e-commerce clients Buystream Merchant as a way to supplement their own analysis,” Pave said. “The package offers unique perspectives based not only on behaviours, but the physical makeup of the customer on-line (connection speed, customer’s computer/browser). It also takes the work out of analysis as key factors are analysed automatically, with recommendations.”

BSM works as four lines of code that sit on an index page, capturing the applicable information while remaining invisible to the visiting surfer.

“Most other companies…take their information from the server log and push it back up to the Web site,” Ryan said. “As far as I’m concerned, that means you’re more concerned with your server than you are with your customer.”

An end user of BSM is also offered the opportunity to become involved with a data partnership exchange.

“Basically we’re creating buckets of different industries that allow you to compare what your conversion rate is to others in the industry,” Ryan said. “There are no statistics out there. You don’t have a way to judge success or failure. We will publish those statistics through the data partnership exchange to allow comparisons in different industries.”

Lynne Harvey, a senior analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said the program provides a valuable service. However, she added the TechnoClustering feature could be misleading.

“If you’re targeting a (specific) market, I’m not sure grouping people together technologically is the best method,” Harvey said. “The problem with TechnoClustering is it can be very misleading. For example, if the software is attempting to identify a high-network customer based on their equipment, who’s to say that person isn’t using their company’s computer? It’s not necessarily their own computer or their own money they’re making (on-line) purchases with.”