Akamai CTO Mike Afergan Says Data Showing Shopping Behaviors Earlier In Q4 Than Ever

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AkamaiMike Afergan, CTO & SVP of Advertising Decision Solutions at Akamai recently spoke to AdExchanger.com about his company's Online Shopping Data Visualization tool and recent insights.

AdExchanger.com: Can you explain the mechanics of how the Akamai Online Shopping Data Visualization tool works? For example, how does one company's data feed into it?

MA: The Akamai data cooperative contains information from hundreds of multi-channel retailers, product manufacturers, travel, and telecom websites.  These websites represent over $17 billion of quarterly anonymous shopping transactions.  Akamai processes this data in real time as shoppers interact with these websites.  To produce the statistics, each day we produce a summary from across this dataset.

In addition to a view of what’s happening across the entire co-op, the DV also features data from three distinct product categories – home goods, apparel/accessories, and mass merchants.  We show what’s happening across the board with respect to unique visitors, transactions and sales (revenue).  We pull that information from each member represented in the DV to provide an aggregate view of what’s happening on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

To protect the anonymity of our co-op members, the DV is presented as an index (see the tool here), or relative intensity, which compares shopping activity against what we concluded represents an "average" day in 2009.

What can the Index say about audience buying opportunities?  Any insights you can share?

The key power of the insight is that we see transactions before they happen.  We see the users going into market and narrowing their consideration funnel in advance of the purchase.  To be clear, this real-time audience data is what powers Akamai's advertising solutions and the Data Visualization tool provides some summary glimpses into these behaviors.  For example:

  • Not surprisingly, Q4 has really picked up – and more and more consumers are using the Internet as their primary shopping medium over the holiday season.
  • Online retail continues to grow.  October 2010 saw substantially more activity across our customers on all metrics than did October 2009.   And that meshes well with national retail reports indicating that October 2010 retail numbers exceeded expectations.  November 2010 is on track so far to outpace November 2009 – and that’s before the four-day window between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  • Consumers, engaged by better online experiences, are starting their shopping earlier in the season.  Even though transactions might not happen for weeks, the most successful brands are extending their Q4 programs earlier in the quarter to be front and center now when decisions are being made with their in-market consumers.  Some retailers are being even more aggressive and running early sales.  We’ve seen these strategies to be rather effective in capitalizing on this early-shopping market.
  • While shopping behaviors are up in Q4, the critical surge for retailers comes from the increase in transactions and dollars per customer, as opposed to new online users per-se.  This means it is even more critical for retailers to build relationships aggressively with their customers during the year and quickly identify those users once they are in-market during Q4.

The Q4 Holiday season is certainly a peak season for shopping. Is the DV able to show other micro-trends throughout the year? Any plans here?

In addition to the traditional holiday season peaks throughout October, November and December, the DV shows smaller peaks throughout the year. Most notably, we typically see the following micro-trends:

  • Valentine’s Day: Spike in mass merchant activity
  • Mother’s Day: Spike in activity across all categories
  • Memorial Day: Spike in activity across all categories, especially in home goods
  • Father’s Day: Spike in mass merchant activity
  • Late August, leading up to Labor Day: Spike in apparel activity
  • Pre-Halloween: Spike in apparel activity

As for future plans, what we want to do is partner with our many customers to help them better forecast those mini-buying opportunities across the year.  We are always interested in new ideas to help make the tool a valuable resource for the community.

What do you think the Index says about the success of Akamai Advertising Decision Solutions (ADS) to-date? Where does opportunity remain?

Even more than we originally anticipated, the index speaks to the importance of understanding shopping behaviors in real-time and being able to identify in-market consumers.  As I mention above, even though Q4 transactions happen during a compressed window, the shopping behavior starts weeks in advance. And with the frenzy of shopping behavior, it's critical for retailers to identify consumers that are in-market for their products, and to capitalize on those opportunities.

The fact that only Akamai can see these behaviors in real-time, across the web, and predict transactions before they happen, is why the ADS solutions are so powerful for our customers and the Data Visualization is such an interesting resource.

Of course the interesting statistics also speak to the success of our customers.  Given the renewed health of the retail sector, and combined with site and buying experience improvements online (powered by Akamai's Dynamic Site Accelerator solution), we think our online shopping data is a real difference-maker to our customers’ businesses.  With rigorous analysis, our customers in many instances can see material increases in the number of transactions they’re seeing online – sometimes up to 10 or 15% more than they’d been getting prior to working with us.  Now that it appears that the US online shopper is back with a bit of confidence, as evidenced in the DV, our customers are really interested in taking advantage of our ability to find their in-market consumers at just the right time.

With a great product and a growing market, we're excited about what lies ahead.  In the last few years, audience-centric marketing has become the standard of how to attract and convert customers, and we're pleased that we've been part of making that trend possible. In 2011, we look forward to several material advances to our product line including complete availability of our pixel-free platform to any business in the US who wants to implement it, a material upgrade to our modeling system (we can get even better!), increased flexibility and transparency to our customers, and much more.  I look forward to sharing more details behind all this work with you at the right time.

By John Ebbert

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