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Case Study: Half.com

Jan 7, 2003
By

Beth Cox






If you have a large-scale, successful e-commerce business, chances are it didn't get that way without going through a few iterations. Business growth does take a while, even if online outfits measure the passing of time in fast-forward.

And growth is how Half.com, eBay's fixed-price subsidiary, came to find itself in the market for a Web analytics solution.

"As our business began to grow we needed to find a tool that could scale, give us the information we were looking for without costing an arm and a leg, and allow us to honor our users' privacy concerns," said Pete Borowsky, director of product management for Half.com.


Enter Omniture's SiteCatalyst 8.0, an analytics solution designed from the get-go for large, complex sites. Omniture (formerly MyComputer Inc., the name was changed last May) says that it can "answer the questions that drive you crazy."

Half.com, based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. and founded in July 1999, had been using a variety of different tools for Web analytics. But as the company grew into a true shopping destination site, "we realized (in February 2002) that we had outgrown many of them," Borowsky said.

Half.com offers consumers a fixed-price, online marketplace to buy and sell new, overstocked, remaindered and used products at discounted prices. The marketplace currently includes books, CDs, movies, video games, computers, consumer electronics, sporting goods and trading cards.

Current figures from measurement and analysis firm comScore Networks show that as of October 2002, Half.com had 7.3 million users.

SiteCatalyst, billed as a next generation analytics solution, can provide more than 150,000 combinations of traffic, commerce and path reports in real time over the Internet, Omniture says.

For Half.com, the primary drivers in deciding to go with SiteCatalyst were feature set, scalability, fit with existing tools and cost, according to Borowsky. "Our decision-making process spanned (everything from) a variety of third-party implementations to building our own system. The decision was made with input from the Product Management, Merchandising, Finance and Technology (departments)."

Orem, Utah-based Omniture says that SiteCatalyst provides traffic reports; site path analysis reports and clear, graphical representations so that users can view site traffic as it flows from one page or item to the next; and Custom Insight, which lets users track and measure any factor that's important to their business.

SiteCatalyst also can perform detailed, custom visitor segmentation based on any defined factors of visitor behavior or actions. And it offers real-time ad campaign management, both online and off.

"While our primary use of SiteCatalyst is to track buyer activity," Borowsky said, "we also use it to track seller activity such as inventory management and the listing process."

How did the installation go at Half.com? Borowsky said it "did present us with a few unexpected challenges."

"As we got initial versions up and running we realized that we weren't capturing all the necessary data," he said. "In some cases this meant more development for us, in other cases SiteCatalyst needed to make some quick modifications. However, as new versions of the product have rolled out, most of these wants and needs have been addressed.

"The SiteCatalyst product has undergone dramatic improvements over the past year, as versions 7 and 8 have been released. This is an ASP service, and support has been very good since we have become a customer," he said.

Omniture CEO Josh James said, "There is some Java script that must be installed on the pages that are to be tracked. A lot of times it can be an automated process where the JavaScript is added to the header or footer of the page. There are instances, however, where the JavaScript (needs to be) added individually."

Borowsky said he could not disclose data on specific, measurable improvements, such as before and after sales figures. However, he said Half.com has made good use of SiteCatalyst's ability to provide an "experimental view" of the site.

"The implementation has made great strides over the past year," Borowsky said. "We combined this with an 'experimental' view of the site. This view allows us to try out new features on a limited number of customers and measure the differences in behavior against the standard site view. We have a separate account set up in SiteCatalyst for the experimental view, so comparing statistics is easy."

Best of all, it really does work in real time.

"We recently began noting our customers favorite searches with SiteCatalyst. This (most recent) upgrade was released on a Friday morning and by Friday afternoon we knew that "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" were our top two searches in movies," Borowsky said.

Was there any downside? Yes, but it was more Half.com's end.

"Because we had a somewhat staged rollout of the tool and many important features only became available in subsequent versions, we experienced some difficulty in getting everyone within the company to adopt the tool," Borowsky said. "If I were to do it again, I would take a little more time to gather business requirements so we could have started more quickly out of the gate."

Borowsky was asked if he would recommend the app to others. "Yes," he said, "though I think every retailer should be very careful in selecting a Web analytics tool. They need to make sure it will fit with other tools, and provide them the features and scalability they need, without breaking the bank. SiteCatalyst is doing that for us."

SiteCatalyst pricing is one thing Borowsky would not discuss. However, Omniture's James said that pricing for SiteCatalyst is based on volume - the number of page views - and starts at $12,000 per year "scaling up with the amount of traffic received by the site."

Originally incorporated in 1996 by founders James and John Pestana, Omniture's initial Web analytics product was called SuperStats. Initially, it was aimed at small businesses, but it wasn't long before the big boys came calling. The small business division was sold off at the time of the name change.

Other SiteCatalyst users include Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, Handspring, Overstock.com, Media General, Media News Group, Gannett and Maytag.

Oh yes, what were the questions that were driving them crazy at Half.com?

Borowsky said: "Some of the basic questions we had were: When are people exiting the site? How is search performing? What features/content are most appealing to our customers. However, we have found that sometimes the biggest surprises are not necessarily the things you expect. You often find little nuggets of information when you are researching a completely different issue."


 

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