Live From eTail: Clever Companies, Customer Catering and Cowbells

With just a few dozen booths, eTail 2008 is much smaller than many of thetrade shows and conferences I’ve attended in the past, but my feet are justas sore. It’s not my shoes — really. It’s the long, long walks from the ballrooms to my far-flung hotel room.

I spotted a Segway on the hotel property, and it was tempting.

Still, I’m more than willing to make the trek from one eTail booth to another, in part to find out what’s behind some of the unfamiliar company names drawing my attention:Jellyfish,Pluck andVenda, for example.

Money for Nothing

As I approach the Jellyfish booth, I’m doing my best to picture gummy fish, jelly shoes — something mildly positive. Instead, what comes to mind are those slimy invertebrates that keep me out of the ocean.

Fortunately, the Jellyfish company isn’t icky at all. The nearly two-year-old firm is a comparison-shoppingengine that — believe it or not — shares its marketing revenuewith consumers. Through its cost-per-action model, Jellyfish offers cashback to site visitors after they purchase an item, Joe Schaefer, the company’s merchant account manager, tells me.

“When you actually buysomething from a store in our engine,” the company says, “we share at least half of what we earn by connecting you to that store. All you need to do is sign upfor an account to earn cash back.”

Sounds great to me. This is pure transparency — like that of a glowingjellyfish, Schaefer says. Hence the name.

Got Pluck?

Next, there’s Pluck, a four-year-old social media services firm. Thecompany originally started out in aggregation, plucking content from all over the Web. (Get it?)

However, due to the “overwhelming demand” to license its technology,says Director of Product Marketing Adam Weinroth, Pluck has evolved into a social media software company that provides community-building tools for sites to enable visitor reactions, videos, photos, blogs, forums and personas (user activitylogs and social net profiles).

The name “Pluck,” Weinroth says, is now more closely connected to the noun “pluck,” meaning “a sense of spirit and energy.”

The Language of Sales

The name “Venda” is a play on the Spanish verb “vender,” which means “tosell.” Coincidentally, Venda staffers manning their booth tell me, it’s also the name of a South African village with its own language.

The seven-year-old e-commerce solutions providerdesigns and builds business-to-consumer and business-to-business Web sites.

Bowing to the Customer

Clever names aside, “customer” is the word heard most often inevery corner of eTail 2008. The conference features several sessions offering advice on hanging onto them, including one I attended, “Giving Consumers a Voice on Your Site and Creating Relationships That Drive Long-Term Loyalty and Retention,” presented by Sean McDonald, director of global online for Dell.

Although he lost points with me when he madeeveryone in the audience stand up and turn off their phones (saying the speaker interference and distraction “damages my ego”), he earned major points with his insightful talk.

McDonald advised e-tailers to follow a more Web 2.0-friendly path, heavily encouraging customer feedback on their sites. A great e-commerce operation should be trustworthy, transparent, engaging, integrated, relevant, timelyand human, McDonald said, citing Dell’s Web 2.0 initiatives, including the customer forum IdeaStorm, as one successful example.

He also showed a video created by Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions,“The BreakUp,” that spoofs theadvertiser-consumer relationship. It’s pretty hilarious.

More Than Shoes

D.J. Van Hameren, general manager of global NIKEiD for Nike, injected his presentation with a double dose of energy earlyWednesday morning. First, he showed a pulse-pounding brand-focused video that featured professional athletes performing. Then, he asked the packedcrowd, “Anybody want to get up and go for a run — or feel guilty thatthey didn’t?”

I’d been hoofing it plenty, so I didn’t feel terribly guilty, but I sure wanted to hear more about Nike after watching the clip.

Van Hameren touted the success of NIKEiD, which offersconsumers the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind athletic shoes (sneakers, runningshoes, kicks) along with other items. Customerscan create shoe designs online — either entirely on their own or with the help of Nike design consultants who, get this, make house calls. If they’re willing to leave home, budding designers can also get help at NIKEiD Studiobrick-and-mortar shops and other Nike design studios.

“The consumer is in charge,” Van Hameren told the audience.

Other Van Hameren pearls of wisdom: “try, listen and learn” (on dealing with customers), and “you can also drown in data” (on the value of analytics).

Badge of Humor

Speaking of analytics, during a session titled “Getting Your Analytics Into Action to Provide Real-Time Solutions and Creating Internal Processes for Data-Driven Decisions,” I happened to glance at the badge of the woman sitting beside me. Under her name and title — Heather Conlan, Internet analytics and usability manager for Bass Pro Shops — hung a tag, which I expected would label her as a “Speaker” or “Sponsor.”

Instead, it read“More Cowbell.”

The gimmick tag came from eTail vendorBazaarvoice. I strolled over to the booth, and Bazaarvoice’s sales director, RyanCush, explained the nod to the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch is the company’s effort at “flair.” It borrowed the idea from the cult film favorite“Office Space,” based on the 15 buttons Jennifer Aniston’s bitter waitress character is forced to wear on her uniform “for fun.”

Among Bazaarvoice’s other tags: “I’m Kind of a Big Deal” and “Keep Walking.”

I’m all for spicing up show floors — and because I think I could use just a little more exercise, I think I’ll go play a game at one of the several booths featuring the Wii.

Click here to e-mail Rachelle Crum.

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