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CRM and e-commerce: After the dot-com bust

August 6, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Even if you don't expect your company's Web site to contribute a substantial percentage of corporate revenue, it can still be a key strategic channel.

That was one way speakers at yesterday's CRM Summit tailored their presentations for the post-burst-Internet-bubble world. The summit was part of the eTail 2002 East conference in Boston through tomorrow.

"The Web is an experimental laboratory," said Ronny Kohavi, senior director and chief evangelist of business intelligence at Blue Martini Software Inc., which co-sponsored the daylong summit with IBM. He advised attendees to test new products and marketing campaigns with small groups of online customers before rolling them out sitewide or in stores.

The Web can help companies discover what customers want in a way not possible in other retail channels. Consumer Reports, for example, looks at results of failed search requests from its Web site to see what new information its readers seek. If, say, there were many failed searches for "Webcam" because the site had no articles rating Internet video cameras, it might be a signal to assign an article on the subject.

Likewise, failed searches can tell retailers what products their customers are interested in that the company doesn't currently offer, Kohavi said. This doesn't mean retailers should run out and stock merchandise unrelated to their core missions; but companies can look to partner with other sites that do carry such products—and get referral revenue.

A retail Web site can serve as an "early warning system for demand spikes," agreed Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jim Crawford—if companies monitor, track and analyze the right data.

Retail sites used for research, too

If a customer fills an online shopping cart with merchandise but doesn't go through with the purchase, has the e-commerce Web site failed? Conventional "abandoned shopping cart" metrics would say yes, but Crawford says not necessarily.

Take, for example, a customer who put two treadmills, roughly the same price but from different manufacturers, into the cart. Did he really plan to buy two treadmills, or was the shopper simply doing research for a brick-and-mortar purchase?

People come to retail Web sites for reasons other than buying, Crawford said, and the smart retailer won't simply focus on boosting online browse-to-buy conversion rates, but will also support the online researcher who then moves to a brick-and-mortar store to purchase.

So a store might track whether a user first put items into a shopping cart and then went to an online store locator; then, if the customer sought driving directions to a store, the printer-friendly version could include product information along with the directions, he said.

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