Ear­lier this week, I tried to pur­chase a new graph­ics card for my home PC. After research­ing the lat­est cards on CNET, I tried eBay and a num­ber of shop­ping com­par­i­son engines. I eval­u­ated mer­chant rank­ings, user feed­back, and hid­den costs like S&H. After a good half hour of research, I picked a mer­chant, entered in my infor­ma­tion, and clicked the “Sub­mit Order” button.

A screen popped up that said “Your Shop­ping Cart is Empty — Con­tinue Shop­ping?” I thought this may be a back-handed way of telling me my order was com­plete. To ver­ify this the­ory, I checked my Order His­tory. Noth­ing. Nada. Zip. In this day and age of web ana­lyt­ics, how was this possible?

With fatherly patience, I started the process all over. This time I clicked the Add Prod­uct to Cart but­ton, and noth­ing hap­pened. I couldn’t even add the prod­uct to the cart. I tried again and again — no luck.

After 10 min­utes, I gave up — I had tried dif­fer­ent browsers (IE, Fire­fox) and dif­fer­ent prod­ucts and dif­fer­ent but­tons (add to cart from cat­e­gory page, add to cart from prod­uct page). Noth­ing worked. I was only so per­sis­tent because the mer­chant was very well respected.

Out of habit, I checked the source code and dis­cov­ered this mer­chant was using web ana­lyt­ics. Unfor­tu­nately it wasn’t Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst, but they had web ana­lyt­ics nonethe­less. I then turned on my proxy snif­fer to check the HTTP call — strange, this mer­chant wasn’t track­ing shop­ping cart activ­ity — they were sim­ply pass­ing a page view. So much for retail best practices!

Just to check my san­ity, I repeated this process the fol­low­ing day. Once again, I lost my order in the check­out process.

There are many lessons to be learned from this expe­ri­ence, but I wanted to focus on one in par­tic­u­lar — Alerts. If you use Web Ana­lyt­ics, you should be set­ting Alerts for your crit­i­cal met­rics — at a min­i­mum! For exam­ple, a sim­ple Alert on shop­ping cart con­ver­sion could have alerted this retailer that there was a seri­ous prob­lem. If con­ver­sion dropped by more than 25% in any given hour, they would have been noti­fied and could have taken cor­rec­tive action. Instead, the prob­lem went on unde­tected for at least 24 hours — pos­si­bly much more.

While many web ana­lyt­ics pack­ages do not sup­port Alert func­tion­al­ity, Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst does and you should take advan­tage of it. I’ve pro­vided just one sim­ple exam­ple of Alerts; but once you start exper­i­ment­ing with them, you’ll find there are some incred­i­bly pow­er­ful appli­ca­tions that can have a pro­found impact on your business.

Also, I recently added a Tech­no­rati Pro­file. If this link doesn’t work, I’ll remove it so please ignore.