One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).
One of the booths I got to see was monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence they are taking your shopping cart system (which may, well is probably, very large) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present based on your past history with you or how close you are to a Walmart. They can compound testing if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day in a media market that is inexpensive.
Watching the monetate’s demo, and remembering their presentation, I am reminded of when I used to run scenarios on large multimillion dollar data centers, and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable number’. I would get my manager bringing my report the next day (reports only printed a few times a day, but when you busy the machine all night it takes a while) showing me the chargeback of the mainframe’s cost that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create those scenario experimentation on an ongoing basis either as test or production – in real time.
What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power to SaaS before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is. This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would. Making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $2,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along. It is a wondrous marvel of evolution to survive in the complex world we live in. And computers can just do a fraction of it.
We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from it. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains define experiments that let us test and tweak what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.
One of the other keys I see in monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now that it your cost of experimentation is lower then analysis, the approach that is lowest cost in optimizing is different. When each computer batch run cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. Sitting around and using human power to determine the best approach. But when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it Texas visitor over Oregon visitor, or this months customers over last quarters customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.
The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. They need to as much as possible be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors has having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.
There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.
As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top – Looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never not the top, but now there are a whole fewer number of excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.