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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?

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should I Upgrade to the New Version of WordPress? Testing Plans for Success

As I wrote about yesterday, One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit with online presence and social marketing. Their simple site is in WordPress, so when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out. Of course, they recommended upgrading just days after the release. So the executive director asked the natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical, newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

WordPress 3.3 was release 4 days ago. My short answer was not now. It is probably best to add this to the list of todo’s for next year. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake.

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The reason – the expectations are unreal.

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website and its’ many layers of software that are used to let someone see our site. Tomorrow I will run down the different layers, but for now, here are the reasons that most jump out to not upgrade.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). Those that is is not (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders about how to meet the site’s goals.

Recently I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’ So my reactions were:

  • New releases are best tested by others. Unless they are fixing a core issue that is not working today. I am so appreciative of the thousands in the Internet and in the WordPress community that will find all the other ways a new release does not work on all configurations all the time. They will share with all the different layers and get those problems fixed. Hopefully before we upgrade.
  • This release does not really improve our world today. This new release does not really change the limitations of the template, it may make new templates easier to build or old templates easier to improve, but it will not ‘fix’ the limitation of the existing template. So this is another reason not to upgrade right away. Tomorrow I will go over all the different layers and what risk I estimate they add to such an upgrade, but here are a couple of highlights:
    • Whenever changing software and its many layers, it is important to have a testing plan and program. We have not had the time to develop that, and it should be done before we upgrade releases.
    • Add all the risk up (sorry the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan (the ability to undo the changes in case they make it worse then the ‘upgrade’) come into play.
  • There is no testing plan in place yet. A testing plan minimizes these risks by being able to duplicate the above issues as close as possible, and determine if in our specific circumstances, if there is a problem. For usually very few dollars, a test bed can be set up (usually less then $50 per year). Costs usually include:
    • ‘testing domain’  – $10 per year
    • setting up a 2nd domain/website – $10
    • Reinstalling WordPress, plugins and all the other layers listed above. The key is they need to be all the same version and configuration except the one change/upgrade (in this case new version of WordPress).
    • Possibly some testing software (although there are many low volume free versions) to thoroughly test a site, and some monitoring software to see how the ‘new’ version works.
    • This does not include the extra time on various peoples part to:
      • Define a testing plan.
      • Set up the testing platform.
    • But, once a process is defined, it will be much easier for all future upgrades, and far less stress before, during, and after (if there is a problem, there is a test bed to go see what is happening, and how to troubleshoot it, especially if the site is not fully down, but only ‘damaged’.)
    • This of course assumes a low volume, simple site. Issues, and solutions scale up as the sites objectives and complexity scale up. However, these fundamentals still apply, we have to add other considerations.
  • Other questions to consider:
    • Has the hosting company added the new release to its auto install packs?
    • Have they tested the new release on their servers (at least on one of them, they should all be the same, but as you can see from above there are a lot of areas where variations can be introduced)?
    • Has the theme tested itself on the new release?  Their site or page should list comparability with the current release.
    • Have all the plug-ins (or add-ons) been tested as compatible with the new release? According to the page http://www.projectrace.com/wp-admin/update-core.php it has not yet be tested.
    • These three ‘pre-tests’ will be very helpful in determine when to start considering when we should install the new release. Relatively speaking this is not a major release and does not seem to add much.

Sorry for giving a long answer to a short question, I got on a roll and wanted to map it out to share with others. Even if you don’t set up the testing platform, just thinking through the issues and steps to test them will improve your ability to resolve issues once they do occur. Not if, but when. So this exercise in risk management has value in many different ways. And yes it is a pain in the productivity to getting it all out.

What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.3 and upgrading software?

December 16, 2011 Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment