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Details From eTail 2005: A Reporter’s Notebook

PHILADELPHIA — Would the exhibitors near the escalator be happy if you dropped in to say hello? They sure would. Do show some polite interest, please. At least one of them paid $25,000 for the spot directly across from the exhibit hall and general session room.

And what about those roundtables hosted by cash-rich search and Web analytics firms on Aug. 1 and Aug. 4, respectively? Among them are Celebros, Your Amigo, Optimost, Outrider Search, ChannelAdvisor, LinkShare, Verizon SuperPages, Omniture, ForeSee Results, Coremetrics and Hitwise. They’re supposed to have paid $25,000 for the privilege of addressing captive audiences throughout the day. Those attending want business from consumers. Those moderating want business from the attendees.

Other thoughts from the show:

* Unlike the Shop.org forums, eTail seems to have fewer men and women dressed in suits and formalwear. It could be the summer heat, but more likely it’s because eTail always has a more casual atmosphere. It doesn’t limit the number of exhibitors pitching e-commerce executives at every nook and cranny at the Downtown Marriott in Philadelphia. Shop.org sacrifices booth and booty to keep its largely C-level crowd free of sales pitches, online or offline.

* Philadelphia may become the ideal East Coast conference watering hole for summer events. Hotels are spacious, clean and inexpensive. The convention center layout is friendly and airy. This summer’s show attracted 900 delegates, down slightly from the 1,000 at the Palm Desert winter show in February, but more than last summer’s 720 in Fort Lauderdale.

“I think it’s definitely a reflection of e-commerce back on the rise,” said Christian Ambrosio, senior marketing manager at Worldwide Business Research, New York, which owns eTail. “We definitely started out as an online retail event, but now it’s more around multiple channels. Customers may shop from multiple channels, but they’re buying from one brand. That’s a big part of it. I think the confirmed emergence of search engine marketing and Web analytics — that’s also drawing people to our show.”

* About 40 booths were rented at eTail 2005, and 80 sponsor companies signed up for giveaways, brochures and wherever you can plaster a corporate brand name. The exhibitor ranks mix firms offering Web analytics, search marketing, online design, e-mail marketing, comparison shopping, teleservices, site safety, technology, affiliate marketing, measurement and payment services.

So who brought booth and spiel? Scene7, Coremetrics, EmailLab, Shopzilla, demandware, Fair Isaac, Commission Junction, Global Response, CCH Tax and Accounting, Exmplar, EasyAsk, BlueHornet, ShopLocal, smarter, ScanAlert, Western Union and webloyalty.

The list also included Experian’s CheetahMail, Keynote Systems, Optimost, ATG, Pay By Touch, Comerxia, Bill Me Later, PayPal, Yahoo Search Marketing, Endeca, Verizon SuperPages, atlas, WebTrends, RichFX, Omniture, IBM, e-rewards, WebsideStory, TeaLeaf Technology, Trilegiant, CheckFree and Junction Solutions.

Let’s not forget those equally deep-pocketed vendors hosting site solution clinics: netconcepts, LivePerson, Channel Intelligence and QAS. Paymentech and CommerceHub chose to sponsor the cyber café on the show floor.

* It was a quiet ceremony for those who emerged winners at the third eTail awards event on the evening of Aug. 1. Floral and gifts service 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. won the top prize for CRM, Nike for visualization and Wine.com for Web analytics. The Home Depot won for search optimization, Nextel for e-mail marketing and Shoebuy.com for fulfillment. Vcommerce was a co-sponsor of the awards dinner.

* eTail 2005 began its two-day event yesterday at 7:50 a.m. The school hours and non-stop speeches can take a toll. Lands’ End president Mindy Meads had the solution. Her company honored eTail’s 13th event by giving away 13 cashmere sweaters to attendees in the general session room. The room of hundreds was animated seconds later as delegates scrambled to find their prizes under the seats.

PayPal president Jeff Jordan took to the podium a few minutes later.

“We’re here to tell you how to pay for the cashmere sweater,” he told the audience.

PayPal gave attendees something not seen in years at trade shows: a calculator.

* Jeff Seacrist, director of product marketing at online analytics firm WebTrends, Portland, OR, was about to board a plane yesterday to head back home. What was the scuttlebutt at the show? For one, he found much discussion on the importance of on-site search, an often-overlooked area of optimization.

“There’s a higher conversion rate for customers who use on-site search — it’s five times to seven times higher,” he said.

Free shipping was the other topic making rounds.

“It’s a promotion that people have come to expect, but I see retailers relying on it as a sole promotion for the holidays,” Seacrist said. “It’s ceased to be a differentiation and almost become an expectation. It’s going to be more important this year than in years past for retailers to get repeat business. And the type of promotions that they need is segmenting your customer base and targeting them with an offer to get them back instead of these blanket free shipping promotions.”

* The eTail 2005 conference agenda pays importance to key sectors of e-commerce. There were tracks yesterday on multichannel integration, customer experience, Web analytics, e-mail marketing, search strategies, data integration, growth strategies and holiday strategy. Today, there will be sessions on visualization, affiliate marketing, midsize success and industry trends. The best thing for attendees: each session lasts only 35 minutes.

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