Online retailers still have room to grow: eTail delegates

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PALM DESERT, CA - The sun is shining and marketers are in motion, meeting and greeting at the eTail 2007 conference at the JW Marriott in Palm Desert.

Many of the exhibitors in the main hall are using eTail as a meeting place for clients and other vendors and expressed approval of this year's show. Julie Goldstein, senior account director at Shopzilla.com, Los Angeles, is demonstrating her company's comparison-shopping engine a week after the brand exhibited at Shop.org's FirstLook show in Orlando.

"This show has been great so far," Ms. Goldstein said. "We are here to meet with our clients and to see other vendors that we may partner with."

Michael Goldstein, vice president of sales at Goodmail, Mountain View, CA, is at the show to demonstrate his firm's e-mail marketing platform. He agreed with Ms. Goldstein that eTail 2007 was a hit.

"The traffic has been good," he said. "ETail is always an important event for us to attend."

But the show floor is not the only place where the action is happening. The sessions consist of a number of tracks with perspectives on Web 2.0 capabilities and customer acquisition and retention campaigns from executives at major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.com.

One delegate even thought the content quality affected show-floor traffic.

"The traffic has been a little slow on the floor, but I think that's because there is so much good content in the sessions this year," said Jamus Driscoll of Demandware Inc., Woburn, MA.

Coming off another strong holiday season for online sales, many eTail attendees are wondering how to improve something that is already delivering strong growth.

"Merchants feel there's more room to grow, and they're here to see a lot of things that are going to help them grow," said Gavin Chan, product marketing manager at Google Checkout.

Google Checkout puts the "buy" in the Google equation, which already consists of search and find, Mr. Chan said. By giving consumers an option that enables them to enter their customer data only once and be able to make purchases from multiple retailers, Google thinks it can expand the e-commerce market with consumers who are reluctant to share their credit-card information online or are turned away by the inconvenience of checking out.

On-site search is another area where improvement could drive growth, said Bernie Prusaczyk, vice president of sales at Progress EasyAsk.

Many small and midsize retailers at the show recognize that their search isn't working as well as they'd like and even understand what the weaknesses are, he said.

"They're looking for search that makes a difference," Mr. Prusaczyk said.

One of these differences is conversions, he said.

"[That] the online retail environment is becoming more and more complicated" is a constant refrain of attendees in Palm Desert, said Matthew Poepsel, vice president of professional services at Gomez Inc.

The company wants to help retailers do a better job online as it tries to simplify the process by providing a means to measure the deliverability of Web sites. While Gomez doesn't measure features, it can tell a company if the third-party software firm it just outsourced a lot of its functionality to has caused the site to slow down.

"The performance of their Web site comes as a surprise to so many retailers," Mr. Poepsel said. "Yet, by delivering a better performance, it is easy to increase conversion rates."

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