Multichannel marketing inches ahead at eTail

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PALM DESERT, CA - With big names like Home Depot, Circuit City, Bloomingdale's and Google in attendance at the eTail 2007 show last week, it's safe to say that multichannel marketing has arrived as a mainstream concept.

"When you come to eTail, it hits you in the head how well brands that are operating in all three channels are doing compared to single-channel brands," said Chris McDonald, executive vice president and general manager of North America at Abacus.

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. Attendees exactly what was top of mind for both attendees and exhibitors: How to successfully get an additional 2 percent, 5 percent or some other increment in sales by tweaking the multichannel model.

One way Abacus, which was recently acquired by Epsilon, hopes to do this is by giving retailers the means to measure the effectiveness of every piece of media a retailer is spending on via its tool ChannelView ME.

"Nobody is ever going to get it 100 percent right, but if we can improve [how marketing budgets are allocated] by 10 percent, it could be humongous," Mr. McDonald said.

Jason Billingsley, vice president of marketing at Elastic Path, Vancouver, B.C., said he didn't hear much talk about innovation at eTail.

"Large retailers are not going out on a limb and trying new stuff," Mr. Billingsley said.

Instead, retailers were more concerned with how they are going to fund the next big multichannel initiative.

IBM is encountering something similar with its new WebSphere Commerce 2.0 Store Solution, which it introduced at the show. With new features like the ability to drag-and-drop items into checkout and a dropdown checkout window, IBM senior strategist for WebSphere Commerce Errol Denger acknowledged that some retailers aren't ready for the entire package.

"In order to deploy [WebSphere Commerce 2.0], retailers have to rethink their entire site design," Mr. Denger said.

As a result, many customers are interested in individual pieces of the solution. Others, with more progressive customer bases, are jumping in headfirst because the functionality offered by the new WebSphere effectively mirrors the in-store experience he said.

IBM also announced that it has teamed up with BazaarVoice and is leveraging an existing relationship with Coremetrics to provide customer reviews and the analytics to go with them.

The topic of customer reviews and social networking came up repeatedly at eTail and especially in some of the sessions.

"I think of social networking as leading the customers to us in a form that allows them to transparently communicate with us, said Steven Skinner, president of Home Depot Direct, during a session. "I think this is incumbent for all of us to provide if we are going to survive in 2008, 2009, 2010."

During the same session, Shutterfly CEO Jeff Housenbold talked about the value brought by community forums on retail sites. In 2006 Shutterfly hosted 500 million photos on its servers, which were shared among existing members and new customers.

"Having customers become evangelical for your brand is the best way to acquire new customers and retain loyalty," Mr. Housenbold said.

Web 2.0 functionality was also the focus of news from Elastic Path, which gave a preview of an announcement for Feb. 20, that it has teamed up with Bea Systems Inc., a formerly large player in e-commerce technology which is re-surfacing after a few years. The new offering from Bea and Elastic Path will include extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies, including an AJAX-based one-page checkout.

Bea, which has a large presence in the telecommunications industry, will enable the communication between e-commerce and other customer data systems.

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