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More Details From E-Tail: A Reporter's Notebook

PHILADELPHIA–Carry-on bags were the rage on day three of eTail's e-commerce conference as delegates prepared to head home after imbibing and disgorging information.

Those bags could not have been carrying much beyond clothes, computers and paperwork. ETail exhibitors are not as generous as those at Ad:tech.

Perhaps many exhibitors consider extravagant giveaways inessential to the plot, or maybe their audience didn't need that much incentive to drop by for a quick hello. Sure, a few like CheetahMail, CommercialWare and Bill Me Later held dinner parties.

A few supplier-side companies offered freebies, and as usual, the hand that took them needed the most hand holding.

Yahoo, for example, gave away a box of paper clips. Was Yahoo being too ambitious?

“They didn't know what our tchotchkes are — they're paper clips,” said Dina Freeman, New York-based manager of communications at Yahoo. “And I've been asked, 'How do you use these?' “

Meanwhile, the 7-inch-by-10-inch red notebooks at the Shopzilla booth were a hit. Cut out in the middle of the cover was Shopzilla's logo of a green shopping cart blazing flames in its wake. Staffers at the Shopzilla booth also wore baseball T-shirts with red and green sleeves. That branding effort is commonly used to great success by firms like Web analytics company Omniture..

What did Robert Benfield, vice president of advertising product management, think of eTail?

“It's a big show, big brands are interested in the comparison shopping space, especially at this time of year,” Benfield said. “We have most of the big brands online, but some of the brands who aren't are interested in doing so.”

The fastest growing categories in the comparison shopping space are home and garden, apparel and beauty as well as computer hardware and software, said Beth Sterling, vice president of sales at Shopzilla. But she also noticed retailers expressed a major worry.

“The window is getting narrower and narrower as people are shopping later and later,” Sterling said. “It's a more compressed shopping period.”

Over at the site clinic booth rented by netconcepts, Stephan Spencer said the devil is in the details. The CEO of the Madison, WI, search engine marketing agency paid $25,000 for the privilege of free site appraisals for anyone interested. But he was near the escalators and across from the exhibit hall and general session room exits.

“It just feels like this is a spillover of the trade show floor instead of being a valuable content addition,” Spencer said. “So at the Search Engine Strategies show they have a separate room. It's a track at the conference, and they have a panel up on the stage and they have different topics at different times of the show. Here, delegates expect to come up and get a sales pitch just because of the way the booth is structured.”

What did he think of the roundtables on search Aug. 1 where sponsors yet again coughed up $25,000 to address attendees? A similar effort is under way today on Web analytics.

“One thing that really shocked me was that it turns out at least one of the speakers didn't pay 25 grand,” Spencer said. “They paid 12 grand. So they were able to unbundle the trade show portion from the search optimization day sponsorship package. Boy, was I mad! No — I was livid.”

Still, he hopes to walk away with a few good leads. What were people asking him once they sat through the site appraisal?

“Some of them wanted to check up on their existing search engine optimization vendor,” Spencer said. “Because we're not in the business of bashing competitors, we did give candid advice on missed opportunities. A lot of retailers didn't know what they didn't know. For example, it was a real eye-opener to them when I explained how important the internal hierarchical linking structure in their site affects the flow of the search engine juice. Google calls it page rank, of course.

“And so if they want their top most margin products in categories to have the best opportunities in the search engines, they need to minimize the number of clicks away from the home page. So you can have a bestsellers box or a new arrivals box where you've strategically chosen those products that you most want to rank highly in the search engines.”

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