Archive for the 'Internet Retailing' Category

Research makes compelling argument for the importance of educating small business owners about the online channel

Small Business Not Keeping Up With Online Presence

Research from Research Brief column on MediaPost

According to research from Webvisible and Nielsen, reported by Marketing Charts, though 63% of consumers and small business owners turn to the internet first for information about local companies and 82% use search engines to do so, only 44% of small businesses have a website and half spend
less than 10% of their marketing budget online.

My comment: This is not a sustainable business model in today’s digital economy.

The research finds an accelerating trend toward online media for local search. However, the report says the study uncovers a significant disconnect between the way small business owners act as consumers vs. the way they market their businesses online.
The survey found that search engines are the most popular source for finding local information:• 82% use search engines

57% use Yellow Pages directories.
53% use local newspapers
49% use Internet Yellow Pages
49% use TV
38% use direct mail
32% White Pages directories

Of those surveyed, 50% said search engines were the first place they looked when seeking a local business, while 24% chose the Yellow Pages directories.

92% of searchers say they are happy with the results they get when using search engines, though 39% report frequently not being able to locate a particular known business. This means, says the report, searchers don’t may choose to contact a similar business with a stronger online presence.

Webvisible found that online search and e-mail newsletters are the only forms of traditional media that are growing among consumers who wish to locate local products or services. Compared with two years ago, respondents report they use search engines and email newsletters more, while they use newspapers, magazines, direct mail and radio less.

Despite the growing use of online media for local searches, only 41% of small businesses report turning to online search engines first, and 31% turn to Yellow pages directories first. In addition, only 44% of small businesses have a website.

When using a search engine to find a business they know exists, only 19% of survey respondents report never or rarely encountering trouble locating that business online and 39% say they routinely have difficulty.

Though less than half of small businesses do have a website, the ones that do are not happy overall with their online marketing.  Among those small businesses that have a website:
• 51% believe both the quality and ability of their site to acquire new customers is only “fair” or
• 30% of business owners feel that they typically do a better job of marketing than a close
• 78% believe they advertise in the same places as their competitors
• Only 7% of small business owners say their primary marketing goal is to get more visitors to
their website
• 61% spend less than three hours a week marketing their website
• 99% of small business owners are directly involved in the marketing
• 65% believe it is very important to know where their customers come from
• Only 9% are satisfied with their online marketing efforts
• 78% of small business owners dedicate 10% or less of their budget to marketing Of those,
30% do no Internet advertising

My Comment: eBizITPA Education and the eMarketing Learning Center are performing research to learn more about small businesses knowledge and interest in eBusiness, eCommerce and eMarketing  strategies Training.  Click to learn more about survey results.  Click to download a copy of the eBusiness, eCommerce and eMarketing eBook

Over the past two years, 43% of small businesses say they have increased use of search engines in their marketing efforts. In contrast, use of traditional small business advertising mediums is on the decline:
• 23% say they use the Yellow pages less
• 42% say they use the local newspaper less

For the purpose of this survey, the term “local business” refers to any retail business in a respondent’s local area, including restaurants, entertainment venues, places of recreation, etc. and services such as plumbers or accountants. The term “Internet Yellow Pages” refers to online Yellow Pages websites such as,,, etc.

Center for Media Research, February 13, 2009
MediaPost Communications, 1140 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001

I Got Personal with PURL

Joe Mehl presents on the topic of PURL

Joe Mehl presents on the topic of PURL

Attendees got personal with PURL at the Manufacturers Association on February 19th when Joe Mehl of Dispatch and George Sackandy of Intelmarx spoke about the benefits of combining PURL with traditional direct mail marketing. But let’s not jump into the benefits until we uncover what PURL is and how it even works. 


What is PURL?

PURL, also known as a Personal URL, is a Web page address that has been personalized to a specific recipient using their name.  The idea being that a person is more likely to visit a Web page that is personalized with their name in the URL out of curiosity of what information is there. Once they go to that web address, the information is tailored specifically to them based on data the organization already has on file. For example, women may see more humanistic language and images verses a man who would see more competitive/methodical content.


How does it work?

According to Joe Mehl from the seminar, these are the steps taken in the PURL process:


  1. Contact receives a direct mail or e-mail message describing an offer enticing them to visit their PURL (ex.
  2. The welcome screen on the web page is directed to the recipient using their name
    An example of what a Login Page would look like

    An example of a Welcome Screen

  3. A contact information page is pre-populated with any data that may already exist and is relevant to the offer
  4. The prospect is asked to complete a short survey probing them for more information
    An example of a survey page

    An example of a survey page

  5. A marketing message or offer is given
  6. A thank you page appears providing other links and downloads to the viewer
  7. Follow up happens immediately whether it is an e-mail or a phone call
  8. Now the sales process on this individual can begin


Okay, now that we have figured out what PURL is and how it works, it is time to look at how PURLs can be beneficial.


Why use a PURL?

According to George Sackandy, CEO and Founder of Intelmarx, the direct mail industry has a response rate of only 2 percent. This means that the non-response rate is 98 percent! We receive thousands of marketing messages each day and only respond to few and far between. So, how do marketers grab the attention of their prospects? They use PURL in combination with mailing pieces to attract customers!


One case study conducted at Albertson College proved that by incorporating PURLs and variable data printing in their recruiting materials, the school could increase their response rate by 18.7 percent. The school was originally sending large packets of information about every program to all prospective students. This was a lot of information to juggle through and not personal in any way to the person opening it. Prospective students were not responding because the packet looked just like all of the others they had received from other colleges. Albertson decided to get personal. They used information that had already existed about prospects in order to send them a direct mail piece including a PURL. When students went to their PURL, the page was catered to the individual based on their interests, activities, and future major of choice. Albertson took a few extra steps to change their recruiting using PURLs and what a difference it made. Now this gives plenty of reason to use PURLs in any marketing campaign! By using PURL you can increase response rates, leads, and overall profit. Why not give it a try for your business?


For more information on Intelmarx click here

For more information on Dispatch click here 



An E-Commerce Event Provides Useful Tools…

Recently, I represented eBizITPA at the E-Commerce Summit at the University of Pittsburgh in Bradford.  At the summit, there were case studies and tools provided that gave insight into how some small businesses are utilizing the Internet to grow their business.  As most of you know, case studies are a helpful way for businesses to learn from others what may or may not work.     

Darron Schott of Blair Corporation, explained the importance of shopping cart navigation, especially when 60% or more of a site’s top audience includes senior citizens.  Though more and more elderly are beginning to surf the Web, many have difficulty finding their way around.  Therefore, navigation has to be quick, simple and in no way confusing, or the company risks losing customers.  Darron explained the process they went through to test which features should be provided and in what way for their target audience.  They completed a workshop with several elderly women where they were able to purchase a product online and as they were going through the check out process, they were videotaped so Blair Corp. could see exactly what areas gave them difficulties.  They then could fix those problems in order to create a better shopping experience for their customers. 

Another speaker, Sarah Caniglia of, explained how one small Benedictine Abbey in rural Wisconsin had an idea that could help raise money for his monastery.  But as with many other monks, the Father leading this novel business idea, had little business practice.  They wanted to sell ink cartridges on the Internet.  Sarah and a colleague of hers volunteered to assist the abbey by creating a business plan utilizing Internet marketing.  The company, which focuses highly on supporting their communities by donating to charities are not only able to support their abbey, they are also able to donate any leftover profits to other good causes.    

In addition to case studies, a list of Internet tools was provided to help business owners with Web site analytics.  Carolyn Newhouse of SuperUser Technologies  introduced a tool to assist with researching good keywords.  As many of you know, the key words or phrases you choose to use in the content within your site can help your ranking in popular search engines such as Google or Yahoo!.   With this tool by SEO Company, you can type in keywords or phrases that you use, or are thinking of using, within the titles or pages of your site.  It will provide you with the number of search results that particular word or phrase will receive in Google or Yahoo!.  For instance, say I plan to have a Web site selling glass vases.  I would type in ‘glass vases’ and see how many results that exact phrase will conjure up in Google today.  If the results display 175,000, then there are 175,000 other sites that use that keyword within their site.   

This tool also allows you to not only see how much certain words or phrases are being used but also enables you to go directly to the results within Google or Yahoo!.  Doing that will allow you to research who you’re direct competitors may be. 

Do you want your site to get lost in a pool as large as 175,000?  Of course not!  If you have a niche product or service, you should consider using words or phrases that don’t have as many search results in order to allow users to hone in on your site, and of course your product or service.  This will ensure that you’re site isn’t getting lost in the search results among the other thousands of sites that happen to sell a product similar to yours.   

So, what’s different about your product or site and what are the best key words that describe it?  This tool is really helpful for those of us that can think of keywords but have no idea if they’re the best words to use in terms of search engine rankings.  Have you used this tool before?  Tell us what you think! If you haven’t used it yet, check it out at SEO Company and give us your thoughts!

For other keyword tools, visit the following:

Do You Know Your eMarketing Metrics?

Do you know how to measure the success of your online marketing activities?

Do you know how many unique visitors enter through your home page?

Do you know how many exit your site after entering the home page?

Do you know what the relative bounce rate benchmark is specific to your site?

You should.  Every site is different but the rule of thumb is it should be well under 50%.  Think about it…if 50% or more visitors are coming to your home page and then exiting you’ve got a problem…maybe a relevance problem?  Maybe the copy or look and feel does not speak to your target audience.  Perhaps visitors are confused about your offerings and how you can help them.  If you are using your site to generate leads and the bounce rate is high, then your homepage is performing very poorly.  You need to know your website metrics information and then optimize the page to perform more effectively. 

This is the kind of information AJ Miceli, VP of Marketing for and Communications Professor at Gannon shares in his webinar:  eMarketing Metrics, Benchmarks & Tactics offered by eBizITPA.  It is packed with industry standard metrics for web, email, and search engine marketing that you absolutely need to know for optimizing online marketing value. 

AJ already conducted the research, pouring over hundreds of dollars of industry benchmark reports including: Email Marketing Benchmark Guide from MarketingSherpa and the Response Rate Study from The Direct Marketing Association.  He gives you all the metrics, analytics, definitions and he tells you how to get started measuring your own set of internal benchmarks. 

AJ is easy to get know and listen to.  I’ve know him for many years, going back before he was an online pioneer, starting an ISP back in the early 1990’s, his entrepreneurial activities have grown along with the growth of the internet. He knows how to leverage the internet as a marketing channel and help grow a successful pure play e-tail business like It means tracking and monitoring all your activities, online and offline.  And that is what is so great about online marketing – you can track and measure just about everything.   

Internet Retailing Roundtable Briefing

The Internet Retailing roundtable featuring Jeff Parnell was held on Tuesday, July 31st, at National City Bank’s community room. The first roundtable was an incredibly interesting and productive meeting for all those who attended. For those of you who did attend, thank you for your participation, and please leave some feedback about your takes from the meeting. For those of you who were unavailable, feel free to browse today’s posting to get the gist of the discussion that was held. There will be future events, so keep checking the blog for updates so that you may attend the next event! 

Our industry expert featured at this breakfast, Jeff Parnell, began the discussion by speaking about the big picture approach to internet retailing, drawing from his experiences at Blair Corporation. He divided his experiences in leading the e-commerce endeavor at Blair into four separate stages, using the four “S’s.” Survival. Stability. Success. Significance. He then proceeded to talk about each of these stages in more detail. 

The first stage was the survival in the 2000 era. The e-commerce unit at Blair began as separate from the primary business units of menswear, womenswear, and home furnishings but from Day One, the e-comm team recognized the value of including all product lines on the website and worked to achieve synergies and efficiencies across product lines. Since the staff of this new unit only consisted of four individuals, there were on a race to drive revenue and demonstrate the “new” channel’s impact very quickly. They began to leverage every resource available from the other business units, including house lists and catalogs, in order to attract and acquire customers for the new online Blair store. They also tested many new methods that may help them in their acquisition of leads, in order to survive as a successful business entity. Some of these methods include email marketing, portal deals, strategic alliances, and affiliate programs.  

Soon, Blair’s e-commerce was in good health, showing vital signs of life and a good deal of potential. During this phase of Stability, team members from menswear, womenswear, and home furnishings began to work more closely, moving to what is called Multi-channel retailingOpportunities to more profitably liquidate discontinued product online also began to emerge and this “product line” took root as a key sales driver (typical customers purchased clearance items AND full-priced apparel).

Success came early, beating the first year forecast by achieving more than $30 million in gross revenue in the first year. The small staff of the e-commerce unit proved their worth and value, ending the race with consistent revenue achievements that surpassed original goals and expectations.

New initiatives were soon designed with the purpose of extending Blair’s reach and acquiring new customers. Strategic partnerships with internet marketing services, such as Performics,  to manage affiliate marketing programs.  In an affiliate marketing program, a publisher (in this case, Performics) receives a commission for generating a transaction, such as a lead or sale, for an advertiser (Blair) that the publisher is promoting. 

The Significance stage is the toughest for businesses, which comes after making the bottom line impact. For Blair, it became evident that the e-commerce channel was able to sell clearance and liquidate inventory faster, while making more profit. Therefore, the company closed several physical outlet locations (including one in Erie).  The level of collaboration between merchants and marketers continued to grow significantly, and this laid the foundation for new innovations that were closely aligned with corporate strategy.  Blair also implemented an e-commerce analytics application using Coremetrics in order to enable customer tracking from the original open of an email or click of a link to the shopping cart and transaction. This ability to track customer activity from acquisition to the transaction (and across the entire product line) is called the Long Tail. 

AJ Miceli, a Gannon Communication Arts professor and Director of Marketing for commented on Parnell’s use of affiliate programs and shared how developed their own proprietary affiliate program application.  Miceli said that the good affiliates are hard for smaller companies to find on their own.   He stated, “You end up dealing with link farms, and in general just bad sites.” He also pointed out that the better affiliates are becoming very picky about the deals they offer and are more interested in partnering with larger companies and better known brands. is currently rethinking their affiliate approach and is involved with negotiations to engage an affiliate marketing technology platform with thousands of affiliates participating. This endeavor should help find more niche affiliates that compliment‘s offerings.  

Internet Retailing requires a consistent vision and a serious commitment in resource to develop revenue streams from the online channel. Parnell pointed out that “most companies don’t follow their vision” in their efforts and actions. 

Parnell shared other experiences with issues that almost all online retailers find challenging…free shipping and email. It seems free shipping becomes the de-facto standard by 4th quarter pushing holiday sales.  He recommended testing various shipping offers such as giving free shipping on orders over the average order price.  Companies also should not forget to include the handling charge to cover picking and packaging of the products. Many online retailers follow the S&H rate cards that catalogers started. 

Parnell is a seasoned pro at Internet retailing, and those attending the roundtable were able to benefit first hand from his answers to questions and the discussions that took place.

BIG Thanks to Technology Council through the Technology Industry Partnership for sponsoring the breakfast.

Keep checking the blog for more upcoming events! Here are additional recommendations that Parnell offered to help local retailers succeed in the online channel. 

  • Get your website everywhere you are: business cards, email, physical mail, banner ads, etc. 
  • Be consistent between catalogs, website, and emails in terms of your product offerings, look, feel, and tone. 
  • Traditional advertising is not dead, but usually are linked to an online website via a link. 
  • Implement Web 2.0 activities to engage customer = customer interaction with your company website (Blair launched a customer recommendation engine called “Bazaar Voice” during Q4, 2006).
  • Include customer product reviews, FAQ, interesting stories about buying your products, polls, etc. 

Must have resources for Internet Retailers: 

Internet Retailer magazine

Practical eCommerce a community for e-retailers

Note: Jeff Parnell is a 22 year veteran in direct marketing and a pioneer in Internet retailing since 1996. Joining Blair Corporation in 2000, Parnell led that company’s e-commerce initiative from start-up to revenue of nearly $100 million in just six years. Currently, Parnell is the managing director of the Erie-based JHP Direct Corporation, reviewing e-commerce start-up and acquisition opportunities.

eMarketing Special Interest Group

December 2020

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