I recently had the chance to sit down with Graeme Grant, COO of Allurent. Allurent delivers innovative Rich Internet Application (RIA) capabilities that drive impressive business results for online retailers like Borders. I wanted to find out more about Allurent’s signature shopping experiences – and how they integrate with Omniture to provide a comprehensive view of RIA user behavior. This post is the second in a two-part series.

CP: What are most valuable metrics for measuring the value of RIAs?

GG: The best metric for ecommerce is conversion, which is orders divided by visitors, but that’s too blunt. There is a three pronged equation, which is the number of items viewed per visitor, the add-to-bag rate and the checkout conversion rate. It’s valuable to break it down because those are the three steps of the shopping process. You have different goals and challenges in each of those steps and the trick is mapping the solutions, the technology and the right RIA to each one.

Think about Borders. When you go into a bookstore, you linger. You draw your hand across the books, you pick up a cover and look at it a couple times and pretty soon, you’ve found three books that you buy. That’s very hard to replicate through the online experience. But Borders has found that people who use the Magic Shelf RIA developed by Allurent look at 41 percent more books. When they do that, they tend to add more books to their bag, and when they add more, they tend to buy more. That’s a 62 percent increase in conversion driven by looking at more books.

The second metric to consider is the add-to-bag rate. This involves getting the customer comfortable with the purchase they are about to make and making sure they feel like it’s the right purchase.

Then the customer has made the choice and wants to buy. In the checkout conversion area, they are saying, “I’d like to give you my money please, make it easy, don’t make me register, don’t make me sign up for a million newsletters.” Making this process simple builds confidence that I have what I want and it’s a brand I trust and want to work with.

CP: The online shopping experience is often cold and static. Your technology is helping to humanize what is otherwise a very digital experience. It’s almost as if the technology is serving as personal attendant and providing a uniquely tailored shopping experience for that individual visitor.

GG: The idea is to bring the brand essence and comfort to the online experience. Sometimes people mistake that to be more literal and they want to create their store online exactly the same as the brick and mortar building. That’s too literal; the focus should be on making sure the essence is there.

The vast majority of consumers regularly check online before shopping in stores, so the online store is becoming the dominant brand touchpoint. It is the way consumers are first interacting and experiencing your brand. If that online experience is cold, digital and undifferentiated, but the in-store experience is full and immersive, that’s out of synch. Online is what drives that imperative of how to make customers relate to a brand and how the brand can be effective in selling.

CP: What are some of the most important recommendations you’re making to decision makers looking to embark on an RIA strategy?

GG: You have to know where you are. Assess your business from a metrics perspective on add-to-bag, numbers of items viewed and conversion. Where are you in terms of an honest assessment of what your brand means and how much your online presence reflects that brand? This will help you prioritize where you can get the biggest wins. I would not recommend a complete do-over on your site; that’s right for some folks, but for most, implementing an RIA strategy is about how to make improvements, how to make them pay for themselves and how to define a strategy of long-term incremental improvements.

Then, think about an application’s future. This is where a lot of people fall down. They say, “Let’s create something cool for Valentine’s Day,” and they spend a lot of money to create a unique application that’s on the site for four weeks and then it’s gone. I’m not saying you need to keep it forever, but think about how you could leverage that technology again. If you are going to compete by offering a better way to shop and an enhanced experience, you can’t just do it once and turn it off. How do you do it on an ongoing basis? You need tools allow you to be in control – to manage, change and adjust these RIAs over time.

Referencing Borders again, that’s a very media-driven environment. As things change in the news, suddenly new titles get hot. For example, when actor Paul Newman died, there was a run on Paul Newman titles. So they have an RIA, the Magic Shelf, and they need the ability to create a Paul Newman shelf. Allurent technology includes tools that allow the Borders video merchandiser to create a Paul Newman shelf and have it live on Borders.com in five minutes. That is responsiveness. In a custom-built scenario, the project could take weeks to put together and the market opportunity is gone. You need a way that you can remerchandise constantly and most RIAs are not built that way.

CP: So, you should be making the technology decision based on the “shelf-life” of the value of the technology. That idea marries back to best practices that Omniture advocates to retailers. It’s identifying where you are, figuring out what you want to achieve, then implementing the technology to achieve that, measuring the outcome and making iterative enhancements.

GG: The parallels in analytics are very present. In meaningful analytics you measure, adjust, change and measure again. It becomes a part of how you’re going to market in your core capability. And it’s the same with an RIA; if you’re going to market around an enhanced shopping experience to beat Wal-Mart or Amazon, you know you’re going to measure and you better be able to change. If you don’t, you’re stuck. That’s just no way to run a site.

CP: How do you see the relationship between Allurent and Omniture benefiting our mutual customers?

GG: It’s really important, because brand is all well and good, but financial results matter most and financial results measured via Omniture are incredibly valuable. The tool is concise, it gives you instant feedback, it helps build a business case and helps you understand where to improve. Also, Omniture ActionSource is a very flexible tool; we’ve found it very easy to incorporate into our technology so that the retailer can effectively measure every action of the user that they think could be interesting. You’re really getting a precise understanding of what customers are doing, how they’re doing it and how you may want to improve.

CP: What cool enhancements might we expect to see from Allurent in the upcoming quarters?

GG: Our focus is on the shopping path, and enhancing that experience. We’ve been building out more and more capabilities — we started with checkout, which is the natural ROI spot, and we have really broadened the approach to address all of the three areas we talked about earlier. Retailers have particular needs and one of these we’ve seen more and more is a desire for a signature shopping experience. It’s a signature shopping experience that draws people in, gets them comfortable with the technology and gets them comfortable with the purchase decisions they make. We’ll continue to see the bar rise around online shopping experiences from something that’s cool to the critical area that online retailers compete.

For more information about Allurent, please visit www.allurent.com.