There is much to be gained from doing business on the Web, especially considering the biggest and best is yet to come. The Internet market is still only a small slice of a very large economic pie. Those that flourish in the new economy will do so because they have prepared their companies both organizationally and technologically to properly market to the online consumer.

One of the biggest advantages the Internet affords organizations is the ability to get a better picture of their customers. A byproduct of Web activity is clickstream data, which can help organizations develop a greater consciousness of their customers' buying trends and enables them to capitalize on that information.

Clickstream data is quite simply the best real- time market research available in the online world of e-business. The clickstream is a record of an online user's movement through a Web site. This information can tell organizations volumes about their own customers ­ who they are, what they are buying, how they buy and when they buy. By analyzing clickstream data, companies know where their customers came from, where they are going and what they are looking for. They can see what combinations of products customers buy, and based on that information companies can upsell during the online buying process. For example, analysis tells an online e- tailer that 85 percent of customers who purchase electronic toys online also buy batteries, so organizations can immediately suggest consumers buy batteries at the time they make the toy purchase. The value to the consumer is convenience. The value to the e-tailer is multiple sales and greater customer satisfaction. Based on this analysis, companies build customer profiles and feed them advertisements appropriate to their demographic and behavioral data and interests. While this all may seem intrusive to the traditional shopper, this level of specialization in service is what Web shoppers want.

Collecting the data is only half the battle; viewing and analyzing the data is what provides organizations with meaningful customer information. Data warehousing is critical to effectively leveraging clickstream data and providing customers with the best service possible. The proper data and technical architecture must be in place to collect and mine the data. One of the greatest challenges is collecting the right information. "Smart agents" must analyze and sift through volumes of clicks to insure that they are meaningful and that the appropriate consumers are being profiled. Cookies are housed on PCs as identifiers, but often multiple individuals use one computer. So special thought, analytics and algorithms are needed to ferret out the right information for the right person.

Smart agents must also act as special data routing middleware applets that provide intelligent access to data sources based on the algorithmic representation of the business roles. One rule may call for bulk or specific record retrieval, require insertions into a specific data source and direct integration, filtering, transformation and text retrieval. These agents also are deployed to monitor activities and produce special e-mail messages or news feeds, in addition to retrieving specific RDBMS or non-RDBMS data sources.

The next step is analysis. Simple retrospective analysis will not fill the bill in this environment. Real-time decision making is required by an analytical engine supported by larger capacity data stores and higher performance computing. The analytical engines monitor the effectiveness of the Web site content, promotions and services to the lowest granularity using a number of metrics. The metrics may be simple, such as the number of visits, hits, page views, unique visitors, duration and depth of views or they may be more complex, such as frequency and recency of visits, click-through rates, monetary value of visits and conversion rates. These tools must support the highly atomic nature of transactions and information requests; and they also must support the analytical marketing questions, such as number of hits on the advertising banner or how many visitors actually transacted business. Web administrators can streamline Web pages to direct traffic to locations where customers are most likely to request more information or make purchases and determine characteristics that cause customers to leave the site.

Organizations can utilize clickstream analysis to get a clearer understanding of their customers. It can help them provide better customer care, hone the Web site to more effectively support their consumers' needs and further develop their products and services to better suit their customers. By not bombarding the wrong people with the wrong message at the wrong time, companies stand to yield tremendous cost-per-sale savings and increase overall sales ­ quite a winning combination.

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