Data Analysis Players Try to Punch Holes in Coremetrics

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Last week's debut of a company that analyzes visitors and marketing on e-commerce Web sites prompted a few established firms in the space to take swings at the startup's claims - and the new company proved more than ready to swing back.


Net startup Coremetrics Inc., San Francisco, hosts a service that summarizes client sites' transactions and shopping trends, reports where shoppers come from, breaks down shoppers' behavior, and gives detailed information on how individual products are selling.


But some companies disagreed with Coremetrics' declaration that it provides "the industry's first complete Web visitor analysis service" that can be set up within days.


"We've been doing this for three years," said Geoff Johnston, vice president of corporate communications at WebSideStory Inc., San Diego. "It's somewhere between amusing and irritating that they would say they're first when they launched this week or something."


WebSideStory debuted its hosted analysis service in 1996. It can measure about 500 Web visitor statistics. Late last year the company introduced a version of its existing service designed for larger companies. That product has found acceptance with a number of high-tech heavy hitters like Hewlett-Packard Co.


Like Coremetrics, WebSideStory's service doesn't require client sites to install any software or hardware. The company puts computer code on individual Web pages and instantly makes the data it gathers readable through a Web interface.


And this week, WebSideStory is expected to announce a new service to track visitor activity on wireless Web Sites. The pioneering service is designed to monitor Web surfers who go to a site through Palm Pilots and cell phones.


But according to Coremetrics' 28-year-old CEO Brett Hurt, WebSideStory's services aren't as valuable to e-commerce sites that want in-depth information on marketing and merchandising in a site rather than just unique visitor tracking.


"It's a ridiculous comparison," Hurt said. Coremetrics provides data on shopping cart abandonment, revenue from individual products, sales generated by traffic from outside Web sites, and how many first-time buyers each product attracts.


A company that does provide e-commerce-related analysis on a level at least comparable to Coremetrics is Cambridge, MA-based NetGenesis Corp. The firm is one of several that sell software clients used to analyze their site data. Typically, such software takes longer to set up than a hosted service.


NetGenesis is exploring the possibility of providing hosted analysis services but doesn't consider the idea viable for some larger customers, said product marketing manager Jay Henderson.


"For your high-end site, that's not necessarily an acceptable solution. It doesn't service the high end of the market," Henderson said of Coremetrics, which he predicted would be "very low-end."


But Hurt was unbowed. "We expected that kind of response from the enterprise companies," he said. "It's easy to say that when we have a small client base when we haven't been around as long." Coremetrics has roughly 30 customers, including Toysrus.com, Petstore.com and BravoGifts.com.


Perhaps most important for marketers operating in both the offline and online worlds, Coremetrics technology isn't capable of examining information from beyond the Web - it's built for looking at online data only. However, it's generally cheaper than most software-based services.


Though Coremetrics lacks the ability to bring data from beyond the Internet - information on catalog sales, for example - to its analysis mix, the company plans to expand into that area, Hurt said. He did not provide a time frame for such a move.


Coremetrics is not entirely alone in its field, said Forrester Research analyst Eric Schmitt. Two firms in particular - Primary Knowledge Inc., New York, and Veridiem Inc., Maynard, MA - have some overlapping capabilities. As is typical with almost every aspect of e-commerce, no two companies do the exact same thing.


"This is an emerging space," Schmitt said. "People don't have any idea what's [happening] on their sites. It's difficult to put together all the different data sources and actually put together a coherent view of what's happening."
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