Magazine Article | March 1, 2006

Automated Web Surveys Improve Sales

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

This online mall identifies top audience segments and modifies its site to target consumers' shopping needs.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2006 is an online shopping portal that provides cash back to its users on purchases made from its more than 800 participating stores. The company originated in 1998; however, it took years of aggressive investment and the development of a diverse user base to finally become profitable in 2002. Ebates' culture includes a rigorous focus on customers and their purchasing patterns. It researches products and services sought by customers and continuously modifies its site to target customers' needs. To achieve this goal, Markus Mullarkey, senior VP of sales and marketing at Ebates, needed to frequently and dynamically collect customer opinions and demographics from samples of the site's 7 million registered members.

Ebates occasionally surveyed consumers to determine basic demographics such as income splits and gender; however, the effort involved in the surveys was extensive. Ebates runs lean on employees, so involving employees from several areas of the company was not feasible on a frequent basis. The statistics gathered were complicated to maintain historically, which caused difficulty when comparing recent survey results to prior results. "We realized the Internet and the average online shopper had evolved, and we needed to learn more about shoppers' needs," says Mullarkey. "We couldn't take advantage of user feedback as consistently as we wanted, so I researched alternatives. I was intrigued by the flexibility of WebSurveyor's solution."

WebSurveyor offers options for hosted or self-hosted surveys. WebSurveyor will host the surveys itself to avoid the installation and maintenance of software necessary to create and analyze survey data. Otherwise, the customer can use a Windows-based survey environment installed on its own Web server for greater flexibility and control of the surveys. The online survey tools, along with educational resources and a team of advisors, make the analysis of consumer surveys easy. Ebates implemented the hosted surveys.

Consumer Emotions,
Attitudes Change Web Site Focus

With less effort, Ebates now surveys its customers more frequently and receives the results almost instantaneously. The creation of surveys requires only one nontechnical employee at Ebates, as opposed to several in the past. In addition, the information gathered is more comprehensive, and historical data can be compared with recent survey results.

The results from WebSurveyor's product surprised Mullarkey. "The top two audience segments are not made up of that aggressive, hard-core bargain-hunter," says Mullarkey. "Instead, the first segment includes a slightly higher-educated group, primarily females, online frequently, seeking good deals on purchases. This segment includes those from a larger household with children at home, and a slightly higher than average income level. The second segment is smaller, but has greater purchasing power. These users shop for a broader group than a household, like a small business or small group. The segment has fewer female users, is highly educated, and has the ability to earn a substantial amount of money back due to elevated spending. In addition, we were surprised that many shoppers use our site seeking gifts."

After reviewing initial results, Ebates added features to its site. "We realized there is an opportunity to merchandise our site instead of having it used as a utility," says Mullarkey. "We created shopping guides on gift-giving and holiday purchases, guidelines for online shopping, and tips for last-minute shoppers." In addition, Ebates runs weekly promotions, like double rebates for certain merchants. Ebates combines survey results, industry data about how consumers shop and save online, and transaction volume data from its site on purchases made. "As a result, we now publish a quarterly online savings index for retailers featuring the ways consumers shop and save online," says Mullarkey. "Each quarter this index triggers an additional 10 to 12 retailers to contact us about joining our site."