At eTail, Attendees Have Moved Beyond 'What's All This Online Stuff Do'

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PHILADELPHIA -- Panel discussions sometimes are like what they're named for: wooden. But an admission on the podium at this week's eTail 2005 e-commerce show kept ennui at bay.


Jeffrey Glueck, chief marketing officer of travel site Travelocity, admitted that his company bought affiliates that penetrated the search engines and thus were bringing lots of traffic. His co-panelist, Jared Blank, senior director of e-commerce marketing at Tommy Hilfiger, couldn't let that pass. He derided such muddying of the brand by tricking the search engines.


Jeff Molander, an Evanston, IL-based strategic planning consultant for new media, was in the room. Did he agree with Travelocity's move?


"It's not a very forward-thinking, long-term strategy," Molander said. "I don't know anything about these affiliates, but if they're typical affiliates, it's likely they've used black hat techniques to penetrate these search engines."


Kevin McCarthy, Seattle-based vice president of search at ChannelAdvisor, was satisfied with his company's sponsored speaking engagement with GSI Commerce at the search roundtables Aug. 1. But he knows the perils of information overload.


"It was almost like priming the pump, but the attendees were half listening," McCarthy said. "The next day they said, 'What were you talking about?' "


One thing that surprised Elizabeth Cholawsky at this year's eTail was the attendance compared with last summer's show in Fort Lauderdale, FL.


"This year it's yet another indication of how vital the industry is," said the Santa Barbara, CA-based vice president of marketing at ValueClick's affiliate marketing firm Commission Junction.


Her colleague, Joe Doretti, Marlborough, MA-based director of sales, thought the line of inquiries was more advanced. "I've been hearing a lot more questions about expertise and service as opposed to what does it do, technology and 'What's all this online stuff?' So I think people are becoming more online savvy. It's been pretty good as compared to eTails past. There are a lot of vendors, but that's par for the course."


Robert O'Fee, client development manager at affiliate marketing firm LinkShare, said catalogers don't use affiliate programs to their advantage.


"I think there are a lot of catalogers out there who are not embracing affiliate marketing -- traditional Midwest catalogers who are risk averse to e-commerce," O'Fee said. "Sure, they're willing to come to these conferences and learn, but they've come to listen to someone at Home Depot talk, but they still don't do affiliate programs. And affiliate marketing's been around for nine to 10 years."


Peter Jargowsky, vice president of channel programs at EasyAsk, said online retail sites are more mature than a few years ago. He based that opinion on fact as well as the high-level questions he has received from executives walking the exhibit hall. Still, he wishes people didn't forget one tactic for the other.


"Everybody goes after conversion rate," he said. "But the other side to it is the average order size."


So it is important to make navigation easy for consumers once they're on the site. Navigation and search are EasyAsk's forte. The Marlborough, MA, company also listens to its clients to get a sense of direction.


"Our customer counsel has guided us," Jargowsky said. "We've moved the product from a search and navigation tool as one to a merchandising tool built on a search and navigation toolbar."


Verizon SuperPages.com made sure people knew about its involvement in search by taking a booth at eTail. Miguel Montesinos, Dallas-based national sales manager, held the fort, making contacts with firms in categories he had not previously penetrated: automotive, jewelry and home furnishings.


Educating inquirers was a key part of his job at the show.


"For us, it's the model," he said. "They're not aware that pay per click is available on SuperPages.com. So it's just educating them on various options they have as advertisers. They've started to understand the power of doing local, targeted advertising instead of just general advertising."


Web analytics is back, if all the press releases, cookie research, technology upgrades, green T-shirts, synergistic acquisitions, conference sessions and eTail booths are any indication. Visitors to online analytics firm WebTrends' booth asked about ways to drive online sales for this holiday season. Given the increase in e-commerce spending, it's no wonder that data and analysis on Web site visitor behavior and patterns is all the more crucial for retailers.


"I'm hearing a lot more concern for the accuracy of their Web analytics data, especially as we get ready for the holidays," said Kelvin Choi, principal consultant at WebTrends. "They need accurate data to make decisions, especially with the growing rejection of third-party cookies. At this point, everybody knows what a cookie is and what the advantages and disadvantages are, but not everybody knows what to do about it."


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