Friday, December 30, 2005

Web Trends gets caught with hand in WhiteHouse Cookie Jar

Happy Holidays... boy you hate to see stories like this one when you're out there trying to get every web analytics contract you can.

It seems that the folks on the Whitehouse Web Site use Web Trends, and someone at the AP decided to check and see if anything at the site set a cookie. Of course the folks at Mr. Bush's current address think like a lot of us, that it is nice to know some basic trends about the visitors to their site, so they went out and purchased Web Trends hosted edition to do some basic web analytics. Uh oh... that's not allowed on a Government Web Site there gang.

With the recent revelation that the NSA site too was setting cookies (setting the privacy hawks into a bit of an uproar about ANY government site EVER setting a cookie), why didn't the folks on Mr. Bush's staff pick up on this right away? Bad PR move there gang. It goes to show that you need to know what is going on with your site... and the folks that RUN a site need to have a basic technical understanding of how all of the parts operate.

This does have impact for retailers. We all set cookies for web analytics (if you have any of the major packages like Omniture, Web Trends, HBX, CoreMetrics) . Some retailers are setting 3rd Party Cookies on their sites for Web Analytics (either using hosted versions of their WA suite, or to do things like track affliate performance... or keyword search program performance). I think we can expect that the press is going to make this an issue in 06. So, we'll need to be prepared, beyond what the Whitehouse is saying (our "contractor" did it without us knowing). Ultimately we're responsible for what our sites do. When you sign up for that "service" to help you track something, or if you use these now, you'd better be prepared to explain why this is a benefit and NOT a privacy invasion.

This issue is only going to get "hotter" in 2006. Combining the mainstream media's inability to grasp technical topics, with the overall sentiments in the court of public opinion that cookies are bad, we as retailers are going to need to partner with our WA providers to get a positive message out. The folks at the Web Analytics Association are starting to do that. If you haven't checked out their resources yet, it might be time.

Happy retailing everyone. Hope to see some of you in Atlanta!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

why RSS has a long way to go

Back at the 2005 annual summit in September, there was a great session on 6 consumer trends retailers need to watch for, RSS feeds were one of the things that was seen as a small fry soon to supersize, especially with the echo boomer set.

It set me thinking... if there's still so much of the online retail going on in the work place (hence the whole premise behind cybermonday), there's a significant challenge for RSS' role in online retail: Corporate Information Security.

Corporate desktops are heading in exactly the opposite direction from the type of freedom that RSS gives. Restricting user access to common web-based services like email and chat are quickly becomming common place in corporate America. (I can't even get access to a web-based email account at my employer gmail, yahoo, msn, netscape, all blocked for "security reasons." Chat is RIGHT OUT because not only can you not install the client, but the traffic is blocked as well) I leaned over to a collegue in the session from and asked her "could you install an RSS reader on your computer at work?" She laughed and said "no way."

Email meanwhile can be controlled, monitored effectively and is something that information security types feel they have a descent handle on.

Now, I'm all for blocking porn, spam, etc. while we're using the "company-provided" information technology resources (computer, bandwidth, etc.) But, is it too far off where one can see a day where in the interest of "information security" and the "proper use" of "information technology resources" where shopping could be restricted? It wouldn't be good for business now would it?

I posed the question to one of the speakers, Carrie Johnson from Forrester after the session. She had a hard time grasping the reality of the "locked desktop" in corporate communities, but understood that it could be a barrier to adoption of RSS. I guess the bigger question is this: What's going to happen when the EchoBoomers hit the workforce... and can't IM their friends/blog during their day and check their RSS feeds? Will major companies react or stay the course? We'll see.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 First Look 2006 - multi-channel panel

Sometimes for retailers it is hard to look past the holiday season but if you haven't checked out's First Look 2006 Event, I can't recommend it highly enough. I went to my first event (the annual summit in September) and was blown away at the interaction there, while the conference had a zillion attendees. I can't wait for this first look opportunity.

I was also asked to speak on a panel by my friend Lauren Freeman over at the e-tail group. If you're going to Atlanta for the first look, I'd love to meet you. Here's the session description.

If you've somehow not heard of Lauren, you need to checkout her site.
Lauren's a GREAT source of knowledge in our industry, understanding retail from both the merchant and consumer perspective. Many retailers could benefit from her perspective and expertise (including myself). Many actually have.

forrester 2006 Multichannel retailing report...

Tamara Mendelsohn and Carrie Johnson over at Forrester are set to release a new report on the state of Multichannel Retailing in January. While the study results aren't released yet, one trend coming out of it surfaced yesterday at Yes, the kiosk is back!!!

It seems that now that consumers are rapidly getting used to the kiosk at Airports, Grocery Stores and some of their favorite retailers, they're warming to the idea that we all should have one. The story indicates that 67% of consumers think that a kiosk would be a great way to get information on a product without having to talk to a sales associate.

Without talking to a sales associate... makes you think doesn't it. Now this shouldn't be a news flash to folks that regularly read things like Mark Hurst's Good Experience website or know Kelly Mooney's Ten Demandments... but just to clear things up... I'll say this once:
The consumer is absolutely in charge of her shopping experience. She will decide how she wants to shop you, when she wants to shop you, how much she's going to pay for your goods, and will completely rate her experience within minutes of completing it.
Keeping in mind that we no longer control the shopping experience forces us to focus on how to give that consumer control over the experience and still make a profit.

Keep a watch out for that report coming in January. Carrie, Tamara and the team
there are a bunch of bright eggs. It will probably be something we should be
listing to.

gap's upgrades already paying off

Much has been written about the bold step the crew at GAP took by shutting down, and in August/September, to implement a new eCommerce experience. If you were under a rock, here are a few stories about this from our friends at Internet Retailer magazine:

This was a bold decision by GAP management. They've been on the comeback trail in general as a retailer. Their multi-channel efforts have helped lead them back, and their websites have been at the forefront of that. But, they were by no means back yet. So, what could have driven them to take such a drastic step as closing down their sites?

The answer is simple: provide a better shopping experience, and your customer will reward you. They set about rebuilding almost everything, front to back. They knew that if they didn't, their site would not serve as the multi-channel hub that retailers will need to survive and thrive in the years to come.

The results are not as simple, but are encouraging. Essentially, gap knew that it would be losing millions a day by the site(s) not being available to consumers. The question is, would consumers wait? The answer right now is... yes they did wait, and they're back.

GAP announced 3rd QTR results today, and while they were down... they weren't NEARLY as "down" as they should have been. According to the story, they were only down 9% over last year, this while experiencing either outages or significant slow-downs in sales through this significant channel.

That means, eventhough the sites were completely gone for two weeks, and had significant limitations for a total of 4-5 weeks, gap online sales only dipped like they were offline for a few days. I'm not at Gap headquarters or anything, but I have a hunch that the folks there are looking at their web analytics package with significant glee this holiday season. My guess is they are seeing significantly higher conversion rates thanks to nifty features like Quick Look, and that we'll see that their 4th quarter online numbers will be in the positive this year. Anyone want to take a milkshake bet on that one?

Kudos to those in Gap ecommerce management that sold the overall management team on the concept that some painful investment now, will in fact deliver rich rewards for the future. Also, kudos to those who actually executed on the promise. lives on... but not for too long

It is funny how some major retailers can't find it in the budget or time to strategically update technology or user experience on their sites... while others are busy doing it eventhough they have an END DATE!!

It seems that the folks running (the Online Site for the doomed but adored Marshall Fields) have made some user-centered changes to help sales in this, their scheduled last online holiday season. With the Federated purchase of May Department Stores, Federated announced that they will convert all Marshall Fields stores to Macy's by September 2006. The internet retailer article details a few of the changes they've made for the holiday season.

A quick check of the site reveals new rich media features in their online circulars/tabs powered by the folks over at Scene 7. All of their changes didn't cost a lot though... a simple "shop by price" page for gifts makes it simple to do your gift shopping by that all important price point. I argue that many of the gifts that you buy at the holidays are gifts you have to buy... gifts for the office, for that 3rd cousin you see twice a year. If we as retailers are supposed to be making it easy for our consumers to shop... then solving little problems like the "gotta buy a gift" problem are big "little wins" that will generate loyal customers. Too bad these loyal Fields customers will be either relocating or buying from macys/bloomingdales/lord & taylor this time next year.

some focus for the blog..

blogs tend to be all over the map. Good ones in my view sometimes lose their focus and become wonderfully entertaining reading... in a time-wasting sort of way. Hopefully, we'll have more focus than that.

What we'll focus on:
Online retailing takes on many flavors and has multiple aspects to it. We'll cover many of these topics, but for the foreseeable future we'll be focusing on the online retail components involved in multi-channel retailing.

Some of those components include:
  • site design
  • inventory principles
  • meeting and exceeding customer expectations
  • marketing challenges and opportunities
  • anything else I see someone doing in the space that I think is cool!
So, let's get started!

and the blogging begins...

Greets fellow online retailers. Welcome to the first of what hopes to be many posts about Online Retailing from the perspective of someone inside the industry, with a unique perspective. I welcome all comments, questions and generally any information you want to contribute.

My goal is simple, to communicate with other online retail experts on the perils and successes of our craft. I hope this blog will help facilitate that by offering:
  • unique reviews and insights
  • a bit of humor
  • stories of our successes and failures
To start the blog will be on a semi-weekly basis but, there's a lot of pent-up content in me so... who knows.

So, without further delay... let the blogging and commenting begin!