Three Questions When Selecting an Online Data Provider

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The business-to-consumer e-commerce experience has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. From navigation to security to speed, online consumer satisfaction and confidence are at an all-time high.

In business to business, enhanced transactional functionality and improved user interface design have improved the online data experience, too. Once a cumbersome, slow and sometimes confusing experience, "count and order" sites now offer features to ease and speed online data purchases.

With immediate access to information and analytical tools 24 hours a day, seven days a week, how do e-commerce marketers select the right online data providers? Here are three questions to review.

Do you need a single or multi-source online data provider? Seems simple, but it's foundational to your decision and the services you will receive. Single-source providers range from national directories to smaller, focused lists. Single-source sites typically offer highly specialized data from membership-based organizations or businesses offering registration lists as marketing tools.

Multi-source providers offer a larger, more flexible universe of data collected from several sources. By leveraging the best of multiple resources, they often can provide more data options and increase match rates.

Virtually all data providers offer some services online, regardless of their sourcing capabilities. Because the source of the data determines the various options, queries and overall menu of online options, it's critical to understand your options in this area.

Which online provider offers the most user-friendly experience? E-commerce marketers should apply their own user interface "best practices" when comparing online data providers. Answer these questions to compare site features:

• How quickly can you navigate the online count-and-order system?

• Does the site allow unlimited free searches?

• Can you save counts, to avoid duplication of efforts and save time on future orders?

• Is there a test drive, demo or live chat to support browsing before purchasing is required?

• Are there prepackaged or ready-to-download options?

Does the site provide advanced data solutions online? When exploring a company's online data offerings, look for advanced services that can save you time and improve data accuracy:

• Online mapping: uncovers and improves trends by mapping data geographically.

• Suppression: saves time and money by suppressing redundant data.

• Data hygiene solutions: improves data by verifying and confirming exact addresses, updating files and valuable appends.

• Matrix reports: breaks down list search results to discover valuable targeting information.

Finally, be willing to try new applications and services. Every day more data solutions are available at the click of a mouse, through the convenience of a desktop browser. With the right online provider, e-commerce marketers are learning to adopt online services sooner rather than later - because getting there first often has its benefits.

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