stickiness: researching consumer behaviour on the web (1999)

When MTV and Turner Entertainment Networks wanted to know if the Internet was luring audience away from the TV, they turned to the Internet itself. They placed a questionnaire across a spread of TV web sites, gained 17,000 responses and found that 55% of Web users still watch as much TV as before. While reassuringly the rest were split between those who watch more TV and those who watch less, it does remind how the Internet is a clever place for market research. Surveys, polls and as we’ll see, each turn of a mouse through a web site can become a statistic.
For a small website it’s the hit counter which clocks up how many people visit a site and is as close as most people get to market research. For the players doing business here, or spending fortunes on the move to e-commerce, something more is needed. Their raw research material is the server log, a heap of computer printout offering more data than anyone can handle, but yielding little information. So while market researchers can put their clipboards away, it’s time to call in specialists. Net.Genesis is the company that people approach to turn their raw data into information they can use. From the new industries servicing e-commerce, it is a leading company offering solutions to insurance and retailing as well as media companies such as BBC News, Capitol Radio, Guardian Unlimited, Miller Freedman, VNU and ITC. As Net.Genesis CEO Larry Bohn explains, it’s the sharp difference between ‘having a web site’ and being into e-commerce, that is driving the need for market research. “Two years ago people put up web sites, like brochures on the web, so that people could find out more about them. But the whole e-commerce revolution is about running fundamental parts of your business through the web. Forrester estimates that a competitive e-commerce site would cost 5 million dollars, or a market leading site will cost 20 million dollars, so if you are making those kinds of decisions, you start to really care about what is going on”. Net.Genesis offer high-end solutions, meaning consultancy as well as software, to those that care about where their web site is succeeding and failing. Their ‘net.analysis’ software takes page hit counting to another level. This system can be trained on the server logs to compile traffic reports that in turn are made intelligible and sent to whoever it may concern. Trained on web sites, pages and visitors, this intelligent report publishing mechanism, yields information about which pages are the busiest, which sites visitors come from and where they go. And it’s more than an academic interest in statistics. Larry Bohn says that they use the information to measure the effectiveness of advertising. His ‘net.analysis’ monitors what is called the ‘click-through’, looking at the content people are clicking on and then following their actual subsequent behaviour. It measures how many respond to an advert, how they subsequently behave and thus which advertising is more effective. As he puts it, “You want to make sure that the content you are providing is directed towards your most valuable customers and so by analysing your site you can make sure that these are the ones that you’re building the best content for”. The science of web sites has a language to itself – one of the ways that people value customer loyalty is called the ‘stickiness’ of the site. Based on how long people linger per visit, it’s a measure of customer attention or loyalty. Auction site, Ebay is the one of most sticky sites on the net and its stickiness correlates directly to how much anyone buys. Another cool term,’click stream’ is describes the routes that people tend to take around a site. The idea takes on a special meaning when Net.genesis analyse online shopping sites. Here the click-stream is the route that clicking customers take as they look around the store. That in turn leads to the ‘look to buy rate’ or conversion rate which measure how well strolling or surfing translates into business. To the dismay of some site owners, their analysis highlights that a great number of the shopping carts created by customers are left abandoned somewhere in the virtual store. As Larry Bohn adds, “One of our customers found out that the way their site was constructed made it very hard for people to finish buying. What often happens is that people need first to go to another place to get some information, or maybe they’re responding to a link and taken to a place that leads then off the site. We look for these ‘abandonment areas’, or places where people never check out”. With web offering the power to create customer centred businesses, the potential for uniqueness seems huge. Through this behaviour research, online shop owners can optimise their metaphorical shelving to maximise business. More than this, web technology allows traders to create stores that change to suit the customer – different products, different décor and different everytime. For the companies graduating as true ‘dot-com’ companies – existing on the web and not using the web site address as just another line on headed paper, research is the way to go. The next thing to measure is how much the web lures business, and businesses away from the high street. Roger Frost (2000)

Contacts

Net.genesis – details and case studies www.netgen.com

Shopping by auction – www.ebay.com

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