Banners Say 'Buy' in E-Shift as Bauer Loads New Tech

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Eddie Bauer is betting that credit-card enabled, or transactional, Web banner ads will spur impulse buying.


On Feb. 3, Eddie Bauer business collaborator Narrative Communications Corp., Waltham, MA, unveiled banner ads featuring technology called Enliven, which Eddie Bauer, Redmond, WA, will begin testing in its online campaigns in June.


Typically, online merchants place banner ads on other heavily trafficked sites like search engines in the hope that users will click on them and visit their sites. According to Narrative, banner ads with Enliven technology allow people to click on them and make a secure purchase without leaving the site they're currently visiting.


Launched in August 1996, Eddie Bauer's Web site offers 1,300 products, or about 98 percent of its offline offerings, and generally is kept more current than the catalogs.


"Since it's online, we can refresh it more often," said Judy Neuman, Eddie Bauer's divisional vice president of interactive media. She added that the site's sales have seen four-digit growth in the past year.


How much growth will transactional banners fuel? Who knows, Neuman said, adding that Eddie Bauer's transactional banners will start off featuring mainly "Bauer basics -- things that there's no big mystery about buying, like jeans and T-shirts," she said.


Owen Davis, managing director of New York interactive agency Thinking Media, which has been creating transactional banner ads for about two years, agreed with going for the impulse sale.


"You're not going to be selling things that take a lot of research" with transactional banner ads, he said. Magazine publisher CMP Media, for instance, uses transactional banners in subscription drives, Davis said.


Some Web site owners who won't accept traditional banner advertising (because visitors click through them and leave) may be more comfortable accepting transactional banners because visitors don't have to leave their sites to make a purchase, Davis said.


However, Stephen Messer, CEO of LinkShare Corp., New York, questions any banner's ability to close sales. LinkShare brokers and tracks commissioned-based sales deals between Internet companies. For a commission, LinkShare will track sales through any type of link, including those imbedded in banners, e-mail and text.


"We encourage our customers not to use banners because they have an awful conversion rate to sales," he said.


"Textual links [highlighted portions of articles or ad copy] have a much higher conversion rate than banners have ever shown," Messer said, "and they're great for sites because without them, articles are nonrevenue-producing space."


Davis said it all depends on the advertiser's goals.


"Some folks advertise to drive traffic to their site. There are other people who don't care," he said. "If you're 1-800-COLLECT, you don't care if someone comes to your site. All you care about is whether they sign up." Transactional banners "turn your ad into a potential sale every time."


Richard Baumer, president of Venture Direct Worldwide, New York, formerly Venture Communications, said it's not necessarily a banner ad's job to close the sale. Among Venture Direct Worldwide's businesses is the @dventure Network of more than 50 Web sites on which the company places banner ads for clients.


"The banner is just a tool to get [the user] to a place where [marketers] can accomplish whatever it is they want to accomplish, whether it's close a sale or qualify a lead," he said. "All a banner does is try to get you to take an impulse click from point A to point B."


So where will transactional banners fit?


Roy Schwedelson, CEO of list firm Worldata, which is the parent company of banner-placement firm WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL, said just as there are innumerable formats in direct mail, there will be multiple banner types.


"A banner can act as the outer envelope that makes you open a Web site, but that's one function," he said. "There are basic banners, interactive banners, search engine banners. It all falls under Web advertising and it's all measurable."


Neuman said transactional banners simply are one more tool Eddie Bauer will test for online marketing.


"We're not going into this thinking we've got a solid business solution defined," she said. "We think this could be big, as long as we put the right banner together with the right product and price and put it on the right site."


The transactional banners will be part of a larger effort that will include standard banners that link to the Eddie Bauer Web site at www.eddiebauer.com.


"It's too early to tell whether [transactional banners] will be 30, 50 or 70 percent of the mix," Neuman said.
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