A New Measure of E-Commerce

In the brick-and-mortar retail world, market research has nearly been perfected: Customer choices and sales transactions are expertly dissected, giving marketers a clear image of the consumers in each market. But in the growing e-tail world, consumer profiles are harder to get a handle on.

But the fog may soon be lifted. Media Metrix Inc. (www.mediametrix.com) and BizRate.com (www.bizrate.com) recently partnered to combine online user data and customer purchasing data to deliver a more comprehensive e-commerce data report.

Media Metrix provides retail Web sites with real-time statistics about online users. Using this metered behavioral data, customers of Media Matrix can obtain information about the number of user clicks, page hits and minutes online their sites receive. Media Metrix monitors Internet users as they travel across the Web.

BizRate.com provides about 1,700 online merchants with customer purchasing data at the point-of-sale. The company collects customer feedback by surveying online buyers after they make purchases on a site.

"We talk to customers twice, once when they are leaving the online store and then about a week later we follow up with them on e-mail," says John Phelps, vice president of business development at BizRate.com. The company asks questions, such as how was the selection, were the prices good, and was your purchase delivered on time. They then ask the customer to give the online store an overall rating.

Together, Media Metrix and BizRate will combine their data to provide market researchers and e-tailers with a more profound view of online clientele. Media Metrix focuses on where online users are going and how much time they spend at a particular site; BizRate.com tracks the amount that consumers are buying at a site and other pertinent demographic information, such as age, marital status and income. BizRate.com also asks how a customer heard about a site.

But for whom is this information being collected? "Web sites within different categories would use this information for comparison purposes to help them gauge whether their site is performing above or below the average site in the market," says Jim D'Arcangelo, vice president of marketing and business development at Media Metrix.

The data is useful to more than vendors. "The target market is broad; it's also for manufacturers and other parties studying the Web," Phelps says. The Media Metrix-BizRate.com report can provide information about how effective certain advertising campaigns are -- comparing online banners with radio ads, for example -- and give e-tailers and other Web-watchers a broader picture of the competition in a market space.

"Media Metrix and BizRate.com's method is merging some info that has not been merged before. They're taking a step in the right direction of what we want and need," says Jack Staff, chief Internet economist at Zona Research Inc. (www.zonaresearch.com).

Much of the information that Media Metrix and BizRate.com provide, however, is a joint repackaging of what they put out before individually. "They aren't analyzing the info, they are just providing it," Staff says. But Phelps defends the companies' effort. "Both companies do a lot of analysis separately. This partnership is moving in that direction, to bring data and analysis together to create a more detailed picture," he says.

While Internet marketers may be a step closer to figuring out who is buying what from whom, there are still many pieces of the puzzle that must be placed. "Sum total on this: It's a useful service and it's wise of them to do. It's good, but it's not a complete thing," Staff says.