Archive for Tag ‘ecommerce‘

Change the Timing, Change the Game: TurnTo, Curebit

Change the Rules (Photo by Satish Krishnamurthy, cc-by license,, rotated and cropped)

Some of the most interesting innovations in eCommerce are based on simple changes to the context of the customer-store interaction. Private Event Retail, for example, turned on its head the idea that your goal is to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and changed “limited inventory” from a weakness into a strength.

In this post I discuss two other examples of changing the game by changing the rules in eCommerce: TurnTo and CureBit. Both attempt to drive consumer behavior more effectively by changing the basic timing of events: one in product reviews and recommendations, the other in deal sharing.

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The Problem with Time on Site

Time is Running Out (Photo by Andrea Zamboni, cc-by-nc license,

In a previous post (Metaphors That Mislead Us: User, Audience, Visitor, Shopper?), I discussed the way in which the terms we use to describe the people who interact with our web-based applications can shape our thinking, encouraging some approaches and limiting or making others highly unlikely.

Another way in which the language we use to talk about web applications fails us is in the notion of “time on site” which analytics vendors have led us to believe means something other than what it really means.

Time on site (or Time on Page) really means something more like:

Time elapsed between multiple HTTP requests in a sequence from a single IP address within a given period of time.

Nothing more, nothing less. The “given period of time” is the session length, which is configurable but is commonly 30 minutes or an hour.

In other words, if I request one page, and only one page, from your web application/page/site, my “time on site” is exactly 0 (or undefined). Doesn’t matter if I spend 20 minutes reading the article, if I don’t request a second page, the web analytics software has no way to know how much time I spent “on” that page.

If I request a page – but open it in a background tab, as I often do, along with 10-15 other things I’m going to read throughout the day – and the view that browser tab 25 minutes later, and click on a link within it, requesting a second page – this will register as me having spent 25 minutes “on” the original page.

What web analytics software knows what URLs have been requested in a browser from an IP address. (If I use multiple browsers, each of them is treated by analytics as a distinct user, because each browser gets a unique cookie, though multiple windows or tabs in a single browser is treated as one user). The software has no knowledge of what the user behind the browser is actually doing during that time.

This doesn’t mean “time on site” is meaningless, precisely – just that it needs to be carefully considered in a broader context and with an understanding of what the label conceals.

The most common misuse of this, in my opinion, is the discussion of Facebook, and the amount of time users spend each day “in” or “on” Facebook. One of the reasons retailers are so excited about F-Commerce is because of the amount of time potential shoppers spend “in” or “on” the site, because they’re imagining Facebook as a location – as though there’s a giant Mall of the World (even bigger than Mall of America) with 600 million plus people trapped in it for 4 hours a day, yearning to spend some money.

Mall of America (Photo by jpellgen, cc-by-nc-nd license,

But are people really in Facebook in the way this suggests?

I’m in danger here of assuming my own experience is representative, but I know for myself and everyone I’ve talked to about this Facebook is just one among many things open and active on my laptop (or iPad, or phone) at a given time. The average user often has Facebook open in multiple tabs as she reads links friends have sent her, engages in comment threads, and jumps between webmail and other applications. Add them all up, and we’re all certainly spending significant time during the day engaging with Facebook (requesting urls from But we’re not stuck there: we’re skipping in and out – switching to other web pages, tabs, and windows, interacting with other applications on the same machine, and even (shocking, I know) stepping away from the keyboard from time to time.

Sometimes those interactions will be within the session window (a fairly arbitrary window, to be clear) and count as one visit with a long duration. Sometimes those interactions will be across session windows and count as multiple visits of short duration. Neither’s really entirely accurate, but in the aggregate it seems to me the latter is probably more accurate.

Metaphors That Mislead Us: User, Audience, Visitor, Shopper?

"I Am" photo by Allison Felus, cc-by (

The metaphors we use to describe digital technology end up misleading us.

We attempt to understand new technologies by bringing the context of previous experiences and hoping to find relevant analogies, but those analogies often carry other unintended meanings and can obscure possibilities.

For example, we think of the urls our browsers request as:

In turn, this means we think of the people who interact with our digital experiences as visitors, readers, users, members, and shoppers. These get all mixed together in actual usage, and there are complexities in each. (In social networking, for example, we also think of each user/member as a node in a network – drawing on a shared mathematics concept which underlies computer networking, social networking, and graph theory).

The challenge is how to use these metaphors to understand the new experiences while being careful not to let them constrict our thinking about what is possible.

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eTail humor

I’m a big fan of Criggo, a blog that runs bad headlines, editor’s mistakes, and other humorous ephemera from newspapers. Today I found this entry from a few days ago, appropriate since I’m at eTail West:

Is it really so simple? No need for community and content, no need for exclusivity or behavioral psychology, no need for retargeting and multi-channel customer acquisition strategies: just deals!

One path for eCommerce is certainly to create price leadership and then focus on being found via search and price comparison engines. But it seems to me the more interesting new strategies combine the insights of social psychology together with new forms of interaction technology has made possible to create a wholly different experience, where its no longer about the best deal but about differentiation, exclusivity, curation, and loyalty.

Of course good deals can’t hurt, so the value discipline of price leadership isn’t going away – just being supplemented as the eCommerce market matures.

The Difference Between You and a Media Company

(From ICanHazCheezburger)

Sounds a bit like a lead-in to a joke, doesn’t it? Like the difference between you and a media company is that you haven’t laid off half your staff, or the difference is that the media company has likeable characters, or . . .

Actually it’s a great blog post by Joe Pulizzi – The Difference Between You and a Media Company:

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