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Monetate – A Multivariate Platform for Ecommerce

IRCE 2012 log 8th annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, by far the world’s largest e-commerce event,

held at Chicago’s McCormick Place West on June 5-8, 2012

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. You can see what companies are going after similar markets. You can see what companies are just getting starting in meeting a customer’s need and who is well along the development cycle. Internet Retailer-2012 gave me another chance to see an industry developing. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate

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,

monetate's logo of a human puzzle piece and the name monetate registered trademark

Monetate from Pennsylvania

they are taking your shopping cart system (which may in all likelihood is probably a very large collection of SKU’s, Descriptions, media assets) 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 even handle compound testing: if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day, in a media market that is inexpensive, and there is a festival this weekend in town.

Watching the monetate’s demo and remembering their presentations, I am reminded of when I used to run scenario’s and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable

Mainframe days when computing cycles were expensive and measured for chargeback to departments

When computing cycles were expensive

number’.  I would get my manager bringing my report the next day, He would show me the chargeback cost (in the mainframe days) that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create these scenario’s 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 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 $4,000 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 in our lane that can be ignored safely.

We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from AI. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains, define experiments that let us test and tweak. Testing 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 your cost of experimentation is lower than analysis, the best approach is lowest cost in revenue optimizing is different. When each computer batch ran on a mainframe cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. We would sit 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 a Texas visitor over an Oregon visitor, or this month’s customers over last quarter’s 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. The market of potential customers need to (as much as possible) be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors as 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.

Logo for Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibit 2012 in Chicago IL


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 priority, but now, there are a many fewer excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
What would you test on your website, if there were no limitations?
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September 21, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRCE 2012 – MONETATE – an multivariate platform for ecommerce site

IRCE 2012 log 8th annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, by far the world’s largest e-commerce event,

IRCE2012 held at Chicago’s McCormick Place West on June 5-8, 2012

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.

monetate's logo of a human puzzle piece and the name monetate registered trademark

Monetate from Pennsylvania

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.

Logo for Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibit 2012 in Chicago IL


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.
What would you test on your website, if there were no limitations?

June 13, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRCE 2012 – Logistical Tools like Refund Retriever

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never get real trust and open communication. And websites always feel distorted from the reality of what really happens at a company.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I met Brian Gibbs of Refund Retriever. One of the many logistics services company looking to assist businesses in the ecommerce channel. As you may guess Refund Retriever audits your shipping bills with FedEx and UPS.

One of the takeaways for me at trade shows is learning what you should be concerned about in your business. If there is a business performing a function, there is a good chance it is an issue that should be looked at. If you are shipping and don’t know your costs, it seems logical that you are not paying attention to a major cost center. While UPS and FedEx have incredible world class IT systems, there are still incredible number of hands in the system that can make mistakes. The amount of speed means that mistakes can and do happen. That is OK is there a need to audit?

What does become clear is that all businesses need to spend at least a few minutes looking to see what if they could improve their shipping costs, or reduce their error rate, or improve on time delivery. All of these can be improved by improving correct addressing. So while not the core of Refund Retriever, it is an idea to consider.  So here are the different ways Refund Retriever will look at your invoices:

  • LATE DELIVERIES (GSR)
  • BOGUS ADDRESS CORRECTIONS
  • RESIDENTIAL vs. COMMERCIAL SURCHARGE MISTAKES
  • INCORRECTLY WEIGHED PACKAGES
  • UN-SHIPPED/UNINVOICED PACKAGES
  • DUPLICATE INVOICES or CHARGES.

But there is also the question of auditing your bills in the 1st place. Most services do it on a split of the refund, so the cost to your business to keep UPS and FedEx ‘honest’ is not a cost to you but a savings. Typically the auditors will use your account information to review your information online to perform the audit. Refund Retrievers is different from other auditors in that they are more focused on the low hanging fruit of just these two vendors. As a result they are better able to work with smaller ecommerce concerns. There is no minimum, since their model uses a simple account set up. Other auditors have a lot more effort in getting set up for each company that affects overall price. I have not had a chance to use them yet, but will be curious to see how they actually perform. Additionally, they have helped me in understanding what I should be doing on my shipping auditing by who ever I use internally or externally to manage my customers satisfaction.

 

Another perspective to look at for every business, is how would a service affect the customer. In this case, I would suggest that for every error caught, to pass on the savings directly to the customer. Lets face it, you really did not loose anything, your customer did. I would send a gift and or a refund to every customer that did not end up with the excellent service you intended when you shipped your product. Even if the customer did not complain. It is a way to show your customer that you care about them, not their money and orders.  When you care about your customers, they will be far more likely to care about you.

So what do you think, is there value in auditing your vendors to keep them on the straight and narrow?

June 12, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

IRCE 2012 – Global Response

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never have full partnership.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to get past the dancing and have much more open conversations with vendors. Sure, we still have secrets. Sure we did not show all our cards. Sure there is still room for negotiations when we get to that point. But, we can start from an understanding of who we are, what we are looking for and how to work in partnership with each other.

Or not. I find a trade show is a great way to see if the message of the booth and the message of the literature and the message of those working the booth match – at least someone gets it. But more likely they are 20 times more likely to be who they say they are.Logo for Contact firm Global Response

Global Response passed the test. They are a call center (and contact center) handling inbound and outbound. What I enjoyed in our conversation, was a willingness to share their stories, how they excelled, and where they were not a match. It is always a challenge to ask someone ‘what do you do well’ and the reply is ‘everything’.  1st they probably don’t even understand what excelling in an area is, and 2nd they probably don’t know how broad the industry is. Global did not take this route. They have a three of U.S. based call centers. Points for setting up their 2nd and 3rd one’s in an economically depressed area. But that has turned into a win-win – greater loyalty, happy staff with lower turnover (one of the greatest challenges of any call center) then normal.

Their clientele are a mix of non-profits and larger corporate clients. Their rates are not the lowest for domestic, but seem reasonable. They seem to have a good understanding of one of the keys to a call center relationship being successful – training of the trainer, and ongoing communications. Certainly working in the different modalities of a call/contact center is a challenge.

Different vendors will split on the philosophy of whether to have all modalities in one team or separate teams (phone, email, chat, social media). The challenge is do you train 3 or 4 teams on a product/service line with members that specialize in best practices of each modality? Or is the best way to have one team of superstars (hopefully) that need to learn all four modalities, and juggle appropriately?  This becomes a nuanced discussion with a larger project/volume. But becomes very key for smaller contact center volume, where having multiple teams for low volume can really throw the numbers off.  Global has chosen to go with modality teams (one for phone, one for email/chat) for each project.

Call center of Global Response in Marquette MichiganOf course how you handle shared resources as an adjunct to this can help with the compromises in either choice (single team per client or single team per client and modality).  Global Response seems like a good candidate for a RFP request for contact center where domestic service is appropriate.

I could go more into how to best choose a contact center, but I will let Global Response’s list be a fair starting point in this changing and flattening world where technology is changing the game economics quarter by quarter.

What to look for in a call center/contact center

June 11, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

IRCE 2012 – Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow at Chicago’s McCormick Place

IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) is over for 2012.

http://irce.internetretailer.com/2012/exhibits/

Learning more in person then online

To all who came to IRCE2012, THANKS for visiting Chicago, the local economy appreciated your visit. I appreciated your ideas and the opportunity for networking in my backyard.

Even after all these years in technology, it still amazes me to see how technology continues to move quickly in a few different directions. So while I will be highlighting some different companies I met or got reaquanted with in the near future here at SEODamian in future posts,  let me share what I see were some major trends here from the show.

One of the big values I find in going to trade shows is the ability to compare and contrast different vendors in the same hour. The challenge with other solutions for comparing (trade journals, industry reviews, analyst reports) is that they often span data that makes comparisons irrelevant. They are X’s last quarter’s version compared to Y’s next quarter’s beta version. You still get the same issue at a tradeshow, but you can typically sniff out the game and get the real scoop on what the 2 companies are at today, and compare to 3 other similar solutions.  Some of the key trends I saw in Internet retailing are:

  • Prices are dropping. No big change there, except the rate they continue to drop. Typically not the same product at the same company, but by a new competitor creating most of the functionality of an existing solution and more for a lower price. Be it Chat and chat management (LivePerson look out, LogMeIn and others are looking to eat your lunch), survey tools, Addon’s to Magento (shopping cart platform), shipping auditing (no minimums needed here), affiiliate management, flash sales tools (keep it all in house or partner) and more.
  • SaaS is the trend. The cost to distribute code to customers, and deal with your internal data center/stack complexities is too expensive for most tool creators. It is far easier for them to increase staff to keep 1 (or 2) data center up and going, then trying to guess how you (the customer) tried to make your data center secure and how you dealt with your specific legacy issues.  The test bed is far easier to set up (if they are using AWS-Amazon Web Services, it is about 3 command lines to generate ‘another’ test bed). If you as a retailer can’t deal with SaaS or it’s API, look for adding at least one 0 (zero) to your cost in purchase price, and far more in TCO.
  • Big data is here. Small startups need a credit card with a few dollars open on it to get a billion dollar data center (Amazon Web Services) to build ‘rock hard’ services. The cost of AWS is low enough that the ability to deal with incredible amounts of data in real-time changes what is being deployed as solutions. This shows up at the consumer level as presorted and pretargeted for their needs, not brood strokes. No longer is confirmation that a card number may be valid a real number good enough. It has to be validated that it belongs as a charge, not reported stolen and has the proper credit limit. 
  •  The is no one stop shopping. The amount of tools to run a successful ecommerce site continues to grow. From the need to change pricing rapidly on one or all your SKU’s, to deploying across multiple channels (store, Amazon, eBay, Affiliate, traditional site, Facebook, ShopEngines) you need a collection of tools that is reminiscent of the stacks of apps in the 70’s and 80’s. The big difference, they are best not home developed, and often hosted in and out of house.
  • Change is now often measured in weeks and months rather then years for software deployment. If you don’t like what you see today, what a quarter and redo your RFP (Request for Proposal). But monitor the products and community reaction in the meantime.

There was a lot more I saw, but 500 booths is hard to summarize in a few lines, so more to follow in the next posts.

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, hosting, Large SKU site, resources, SEM Industry, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Looking at Your Visitors All the Same, or in Small Groups?

Poll –

Have you  heard about the long tail by Chris Anderson? Briefly his book is the ‘discovery’ that there is more ‘action’ in the rest of a market (in terms of total dollars or total number sold or total people involved or…) then the ‘top 10’ best sellers.  He spends a lot of time doing lots of analysis that proves that there is more ‘area’ under the curve in the long tail or the ‘rest of the market’ or the top 1,000,000 less the top 10, then there is in the top 10 of most categories.  Of course, top 40 radio stations do not want you to know this. Nor do Budweiser, Miller, Coke and Pepsi – they only feel the top 5 is all that counts.

What does this have to do with your website? Mostly that you do not have to be ‘the top 10’ of a ‘short tail term’ to be someone.  You can be very successful by focusing on your niche.  The key for success is to define multiple niches and excel at a niche rather then trying to be everything to everyone. You still have to rank high for your term, but it does not have to be a short tail term, it can be a long tail term (shoes vs. New Balance 531 AA Blue shoes).

This is born out by reviewing how searches are done on the Internet. The trend continues to be more and longer keyword phrases month after month as people continue to not find what they are looking for on short tail searches. Every go into a car dealer with the answer of ‘A Car’ to the ‘how can I help you?’. You frustrate most salespeople, they don’t want short tail answers, they want long tail answers – ‘I want a blue 2009 H2 with all the accessories’. Search engines are not (usually) smarter then even a car salesperson. They want you to identify what your interests are, what your desires are and how you will use the car – your

Psychographic modeling

Look at your psychographic in smaller chunks of the long tail and put the ‘chunks’ together. Look at the casual buyer, the passionate collector, the person who only uses it once, the family that only buys from a recommendation.

The point is concentrate on behavioral targeting. Of course, this can get creepy if you go too far, but being perceptive is a benefit. So understanding that collectors what good shipping and wrappers is good. Knowing your customer’s bra size (especially if they have never ordered from you) is usually creepy. The key is to look at it through the eyes of your potential customer.


Just like you should not prejudge all blue people as cold and distant, you should not prejudge all your visitors as meeting just one standard way of behaving.

  • Define different groups of visitors
  • look at how they would prefer to interact with your business
  • what should you do to most accommodate their preferences
  • how will they be looking to find you
  • what terms do each group use (surfboard vs. board vs. ) – need 4 examples of different terms that could be culturally or generationally different …Rad idea dude! Cool man! (when did cool get to mean hot?)
  • create extra pages that are focused on each psychograpic to cater to the needs of each group
  • look at what the overlaps are of the different groups this is what you should consider emphasizing in your main pages.
  • look at and map (MS VISIO is good for this or mind map software) your potential target group. Look at where they overlap and where they don’t.

When you start designing your marketing campaigns, it is important to look at the long tail of your market. What do the different niches want? What are the solutions they are looking for? The different answers to these questions will help you identify the correct strategies for marketing effectively to the long tail. That will allow you to create effective keyword lists that are far easier to rank well in then the ‘short tail’ terms that ‘everyone else’ is battling for.

Rather then fighting for top 10 place for the term  ‘Beer’ on Google, go after ‘Western Wisconsin’s best wheat ale’, your audience will be more dedicated, less price sensitive and  easier to reach. In other words more profitable.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | copywriting, How To, Large SKU site, local marketing, SEM Industry | , , , , | Leave a comment

Large SKU Sites-Understanding the True Need with a SPIN Through the Warehouse and Website (part 2)

The next few blogs posting are some of my thoughts on the process I would take to begin the project.

Understanding the True Need with a SPIN Through the Warehouse and the Website

Like any project I take on,  I often use the SPIN model to clarify that I am solving the correct issues.  Often, it is far easier to jump into solutions for problems that do not exist. Or they exist, but do not want to be resolved. Or they want to be resolved, but there are far bigger issues that will kill a business long before the smaller issues become core to the business. Those ‘other issues’ exist due to specific agreements internally or externally that may have been around far longer then the current players.  That does not mean the issues should not be reviewed, only that there may be valid reasons why not to focus on those issues at this time.  When the flood waters are rising, it is not the time to talk to the architect about the new addition for a sunroom. Although, it might not be a bad time to make some mental notes on how to plan and prevent or mitigate flood issues for the next time.

When taking on a large SKU website project, it is core to prioritize based on the true need of the business.

SPIN – Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need.

This model is based on the series of books by Neil Rackham. This model is what I have found the easiest to teach the concepts of truly understanding what the true needs of a project/customer/client/company/patient/department.

Situation –

is about understanding where you are, and how you got to this point. Of course the idea way to learn the situation is a nice written history of all the significant details, and all the insignificant fluff is written out.  No bias enters into the conversation, and all the skeletons in the closest are clearly laid out and labeled as such.  The reasons for past compromises are identified and resolved for a clear path to future success with the current team that has no affinity for past missteps. This history is agreed on by all stakeholders, with no animosity or grudges. Management and the line teams all agree on all the issues and relative importance of each.  Oops, I was drifting off to the land of – ‘yeah right’, and there are no budget issues either. But this is the information we are searching for.

Situations are messy.  For every project I have ever participated on, everyone did the best they could at the time, based on the resources they had.  Those resources include:

  • time,
  • best practices of the time,
  • money (always in limited supply),
  • information,
  • know how,
  • Sense of vision and purpose.

And of course hindsight is 20/20, so we should be able to see where we could have improved from this vantage point.  This step is not meant to be a witch hunt, but a truthful assessment of where we are today and major issues that contributed to our being here. This step will look at the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of where we are relative to where we are planning on heading.  Sorry about all the acronyms, but they are great tools in being able to roll up a lot of concepts in easier to manage format.

S W O T :

  • S – Strengths – What is currently working well with the current situation? Where do we excel over our competition?
  • W – Weaknesses – Why is our competition currently getting any customers that we would want?  What are we lacking from a CUSTOMER perspective? What are we lacking from an internal perspective that is making us work harder and not smarter?
  • O – Opportunities – The world is a changing place.  And changing fast.  What can we do to improve our abilities, meet client needs, make our job easier and reduce cost?
  • T – Threats – Everyone is looking to capitalize on our success.  Ideas are a dime a dozen. So what do we need to recognize that others will be doing better then us in rapid succession, or even longer term? What do ‘they’ have that seems to give an inherent advantage over us?  What can they do to ‘buy’ and advantage over us, and what can we do to counter that? Can we mitigate the threat by working in partnership with them?

If a manufacture is looking to sell direct to our customer base, can we partner with them to become their exclusive fulfillment house? That comes from a SWOT analysis of understanding our:

  • Strength is in fulfillment and customer service
  • Weakness is in high volume single orders – our system is not optimized for sending 10,000 single SKU of the green bag out.
  • Opportunity is to partner with the knowledge of the manufacture to get product quicker, more directly and cheaper.
  • Threat is if they can set up their own system they have the increased cost savings of manufacturing the product themselves to ‘fund’ a direct distribution process. Additionally, many of their orders are already small individual orders requiring a lot of fulfillment strength.

Next I will explore the Problem part of the SPIN approach to need identification.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | How To, Large SKU site, SPIN, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment