A-List Metrics for Retailers

There is no shortage of metrics at an ecommerce merchant's disposal. And, unlike their service provider and information publisher counterparts, they are very much at the mercy of this data.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks to help manage the metrics trade. The first, and this may come as a surprise, is to do away with the more traditional indicators of overall performance that are gathered and focus on what's happening right now.

"Ecommerce is all about doing things on the fly and testing with trial and error to see how customers will respond," said Jeffrey Tower, the U.S. general manager for Celebros, a provider of site search, merchandising and conversion technologies for online retailers. "The same is true for analytics. Most ecommerce merchants use analytic tools that only allow you to see what has happened on your site 24 hours ago. Instead, they need to be using live-performance metrics, so these are measured and acted on not just daily, but in real-time."

According to Tower, using past performance metrics is a significant issue for ecommerce merchants because if they find out about a problem that happened days ago, it may be too late to fix, ultimately causing the site money. As such, there are many resources available that can help ecommerce merchants collect and understand the information occurring in real-time. This includes real-time analytics solutions, such as GoSquared, or heat- and click-mapping technology tools, such as Crazy Egg, which can also track mouse movement.

"They monitor website usability and interaction and conversion on the fly so ecommerce merchants can see what's happening right now," said Tower. "That way if a company sees something is wrong, they can fix it and keep the customer engaged. It all boils down to live-performance metrics - they're underused by ecommerce merchants and can provide a wealth of information about the customers visiting the page right now, which will lead to increased conversions."

Power Couple

As significant as real-time metrics are to a business's success, knowing which metrics to measure "side-by-side" is equally as important. For example, the time-on-site metric cannot tell the whole picture by itself, especially in ecommerce. In this virtual realm, the more time a user spends on the site, the worse their experience might actually be. This is in stark contrast to, say, an information provider whose time-on-site metrics may indicate a person is finding more and more relevant information the longer they spend perusing the site. For ecommerce merchants, if a user isn't finding what they want and eventually checking out, time-on-site doesn't mean much.

Time-on-site metrics, coupled with site search data, however, can result in immensely meaningful performance insights, which merchants can use to dig deeper into user activity and understand experience, the viability of promotions, products offerings and more. Site search is a way to truly "listen" to a consumer. They're telling a merchant exactly what they want and giving them unparalleled access into their motives for the visit. It likely goes without saying that if site search (and a good one at that, of course) isn't a prominent feature on a site, it should be quickly and with all the necessary tracking built in. Site search should go beyond the words used to find what someone wants, however. It should track how users refined their search, if they abandoned the search for other navigational elements, what items were placed in the cart, how they ended up converting (if at all) and what they purchased.

Trust Building

While time-on-site, in combination with in-site search metrics, should be measured daily, there is another combo that should be on a merchant's daily radar. Bob Gingras, the vice president of enterprise architecture at Acquity Group, a brand ecommerce and digital marketing agency, couples search relevancy with site/cart abandonment.

Knowing what percentage of site or cart abandonment is attributed to search usage, as well as what irrelevant search results contributed to this, can help to significantly tighten up a keyword-based ad campaign and also increase trust. Online consumers tend to be a cautious bunch, so when they arrive at a website with misrepresented keywords, the site's relevancy, in the eyes of that user, plummets. The conversion is, likely, forever lost, so it's best to take a careful, conservative approach to keywords.

Express Lane

Another way to build trust and increase conversions is through monitoring "ease-of-use" metrics, which Gingras defines as arrival to checkout speed. The same laws of checkout that apply to brick-and-mortar operations should be taken into account in the digital world. Just like consumers don't like to wait in line at a grocery store, they don't want to wait for a page to render or be punished because they're viewing the site on their mobile device rather than a desktop site. The difference, of course, is consumers are more likely to abandon a site or a digital cart than they are a cart full of groceries. Merchants should track these site-based metrics daily and find a way to digitally 'open a new line' if customers are waiting.

The traditional metrics Web workers have become accustomed to will stand the test of time. By expanding the dataset you use to gather insights, however, analytics will become an action-oriented process that provides genuine value to a business's bottom line.