FreeRide Brings Mall-Survey Concept Online

FreeRide Media LLC, New York, is working toward an August launch of an online application called CustomerPulse that the company says performs market research on the fly and tugs at the sleeve of shoppers who become frustrated with an e-commerce site before they depart for another merchant.

CustomerPulse is a joint venture between FreeRide and CLT Research Associates, New York, a market research firm that pioneered the mall intercept — people with clipboards who try to get passers-by to stop and answer questions about phone service and laundry detergent.

What CustomerPulse is designed to do for e-commerce sites isn't too dissimilar. The application is triggered as a pop-up window when a consumer performs a specific task, such as clicking to leave a site or dumping their virtual shopping cart.

A message on the screen asks the cyber-surfer if it can ask a few quick questions. Should the would-be customer agree, CustomerPulse conducts an interview of sorts. Client sites will choose the questions, but the technology is designed to randomly select only five for each Netizen in the interest of preventing respondents from getting bored and moving on.

The application then can make suggestions to keep the customer on board. For example, a departing shopper who says he doesn't like a site's ease of purchasing might be steered toward the e-tailer's gift suggestions or driven directly to its ordering information page. Though CustomerPulse is designed to perform market research, FreeRide touts the technology as a customer service tool — and one that potentially “saves” sales that would otherwise head elsewhere.

“It's just like that guy at the Gap,” said Joshua Lippiner, the 23-year-old executive vice president of FreeRide who is overseeing the project. “It asks, 'Can I help you? Spend sixty seconds to tell me about your wants and your needs.' And it's a simple opt out.”

Surfers rate aspects of a site on a scale of one to nine, and FreeRide plans to report back to each client both the relative importance of certain site aspects to consumers — ease of ordering vs. ease of navigation, for example — and how the virtual shop rates within each category.

Lippiner has bigger plans for CustomerPulse, hoping eventually to average out different sites' performance numbers and put together industry benchmarks. Then, he said, the company will be able to tell e-commerce firms how they rate against their broader competition.

In other words, the firm might tell a virtual book retailer that its customer service rating is 6.9, compared with an industry average of 5.3. Net firms' individual numbers would remain anonymous.

FreeRide has not publicly announced the project, but such a pool of e-commerce information, broken down by product category, has already piqued the interest of Web-site development companies and data syndicators that have approached FreeRide about partnerships. Lippiner declined to name specific players, noting that he has not decided whether to let other companies sell the data or to sell it himself.

“I don't know which one is going to be more lucrative for me quite frankly,” he said.

FreeRide plans to charge Web sites an annual fee of between $18,000 to $25,000 for CustomerPulse. The company is signing up clients now for three-month trials.

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