While in New York a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to spend a part of my day at the shop.org Annual Summit. The event brings all the latest e-commerce technology vendors and thought leaders together to help online retailers advance their wares.
Like any good tradeshow, the show floor was full of many many wonderful vendors showing many many wonderful goods and services. And free pens, notepads, t-shirts, and squeezie toys. Some of the companies I had heard of before (Commission Junction, eBay, ShopZilla, Shopping.com), and a few I hadn’t heard of. So I talked to them to learn more about how the face of online shopping is changing.
First up was Nielsen//Net Ratings, who showed me their MegaPanel product (here’s a PDF version of their brochure). The company is taking their tried and true practice of getting a panel of users and tracking their behaviors. In this case, the panelists install a piece of software which is able to detect activities spent at online retailers. According to the booth rep, the system then tracks users as they visit sites, add products to their shopping carts, and check out. It also tracks various referral networks at the same time, so a vendor, say Amazon.com, can get a better sense of how good a job their Google AdWords are doing. Seems like a pretty good service for an etailer to try out.
Next up was inQ.com, whose motto is “put salespeople on your website” and guess what they do? They have a simple script that a vendor can add to their site that allows for chatting during the shopping experience. The product is called chatCommerce, and their key value-adds are (1) they customize the interface to blend in relatively inobtrusively with the Web site, and (2) they do all the work. It’s their sales team that get trained on the company’s products, and are responsible for helping close sales. The company representative I spoke with said that vendors are seeing a 20% bump in sales, and the best part is, the companies only pay out based on additional sales as a result of the chat sessions.
The next vendor I spoke with is myRichFX, who have a catalog of products that help get catalogs online. Basically if a company has a huge inventory of different products, say Disney, it can be a challenge to create a very rich, visual experience for consumers to browse their online catalog. The company’s solution has a variety of different components, which surfaces to the end-user as a flash-based environment with a wide variety of interactive ways to surf through the catalog. I saw a few demos, but you can check out what they did for the NHL here (big surprise that I’d pick the hockey-related demo, eh?). The company has dealt with projects from 60 to 6000 pages, and also has some B2B offerings in the mix.
Next up was TheFind.com, a Web 2.0 venture for helping customers find product information. During the demo I saw, the demo dude and I tried a few different searches, including my wife’s Cocoa Nuts and the Slingbox. One did fairly better than the other. While the site used all the latest and greatest Web 2.0 technologies (rounded corners, AJAX widgets, and the site is of course in beta), I struggle to see how this is much better than, say, Amazon.com. When I asked that exact question, I was told the results are broader, deeper, and generally better, but I don’t think that’s enough for me. I think the reality of the service is it’s better for products that Amazon doesn’t carry, because their ability to crawl the net seems very impressive. Either way, I do agree that the overall online shopping experience still has a long way to go, so we’ll wait and see how TheFind does over time.
A mere three booths away from onQ.com was LIVEperson (love that name and font treatment!). The two companies are competitors in the same area of adding live chat to the sales experience, but instead of effectively outsourcing the sale, LIVEperson provides a technology platform that they license to vendors. I must say I like both models and think there is plenty of opportunity for both companies. I think it comes down to the type of product and/or service a vendor is looking to sell – in some cases having 3rd-party salespeople works great, in others it doesn’t. As a good friend of mine often says: that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla.
I really like the business model over at hitwise, because it’s so simple:
- Build a great technology platform for competitive intelligence
- Show a company their competitors’ information
- Go to that company’s competitors, show that they are using their platform
- Repeat step 2 above ad infinitum
- Rule the world
Plus I like the slogan “data is the new black.”
A gentleman was there from Google Checkout, showing how they fit into the grand scheme of e-commerce. I mentioned to him that my wife had tried taking a look into the service, but really couldn’t figure out how to get up and running and what the service offering was. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge a problem with how they position and market the service, he seemed to have an “oh well” kind of attitude. I’ve been told this is just the “Google way” which I find disappointing. I’m sure Google Checkout is doing just fine, but I’ll wager it could do even better if they were to take the time to find out why they aren’t getting even more traction.
ShopLocal was demonstrating their newest product, SmartMedia (can’t find any links on it on their site, sorry). SmartMedia is effectively “like a print ad insert” made available as a banner ad (or other formats as well) on a Web site. When you hover your mouse over a SmartMedia ad, it’ll show you the products on sale in your local stores, as opposed to online. Also, it can be combined with both offline and online promotions, in order to bridge the gap of seeing ads in one place, but not being able to act upon them until you are elsewhere. Interesting concept, I could see it being useful for items you want to have now. Why wait for UPS when you can drive to the local CompUSA…
Last up was PowerReviews, a company providing a platform for outsourcing consumer-to-consumer product opinions and reviews. I’m a huge fan of peer-based product reviews, I think they are almost as strong a factor in consumer buying behaviors as professional reviews are. I know I check the stars on Amazon before buying anything, and also pay attention when on Travelocity or CitySearch as well. With the PowerReviews system, any site can turn on end-user reviews, and the content gets deployed not just at the target site, but also on their own user community. Nice concept, I hope to see it take off.
Looks like there’s a lot of energy into improving the online shopping experience. Other companies presenting at the show had services ranging from video search to virtual models (for seeing how big your virtual butt looks in those pants) to search engine optimization services. Lots of those last ones. Interesting show, I’m looking forward to seeing which of these new technologies get deployed, and which ones power the next boo.com.