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As online and offline retailers gear up for a holiday season filled with uncertainty, is hoping that its homegrown personalization tools will give its retail advertisers the boost they seek.

Pink slips and a turbulent economy are forcing many holiday shoppers to tighten their purse strings this season. Consumers are spending more time comparing prices and products, and less time making impulse purchases. And whether they're shopping in the malls or on their laptops, more people than ever before are turning to the Internet as a research tool before making their holiday purchases.

In fact, a recent Jupiter study shows that 83% of online shoppers use the Internet to research their offline purchases. In addition, 40% of AOL users say they still enjoy going to stores or malls to shop, according to market research firm Odyssey.

This is good news for Web-based e-marketing companies like Chicago-based, which has developed its own tools to personalize the online buying experience., which is designed to allow shoppers to compare prices on everything from music and movies to pet supplies, boasts of more than 16 million shoppers and a client list that includes Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart and JC Penney.

A typical advertiser places an offer on the site, such as a "Free Stuff" offer or a coupon. The offer is presented to shoppers on a targeted and personalized basis according to shoppers' registration information. The coupons are secure and trackable and provide high quality redemption data to the advertiser, according to CoolSavings.

Ken Treske, chief marketing officer at, described one particularly successful coupon program for an unnamed CPG (consumer packaged goods) client. "Because we were able to track actual redemption to the household level, we had over a 20% redemption rate, which is huge." According to Marketing Promotion News' Promotion Trends 2001, traditional coupon programs typically get a 2% redemption rate.

Homegrown personalization apps

The technology behind these personalized offers was developed in-house by Chief Operating Officer John Adams said his team of developers has been building out the features and functionality of the site since its inception in 1997.

"If you look back 5 or 5½ years ago, there really wasn't anything like this on the marketplace," Adams said. "And even today we have a very specialized system for incentive-based marketing. There really isn't anything out there that can target at the same speed. Our system is built specifically for targeting these types of offers on the fly."

E-marketing sites that offer comparison shopping as well as personalized offers rely on fast, complex systems such as this, according to one industry watcher.

"You're also going to see this being done by companies who do post-purchase surveys of consumers that's going to be another way to find out if a purchase has actually been made," said Rob Leathern, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "But actually tracking online behavior is pretty difficult."

In addition to coupons and price comparisons, CoolSavings offers many other services to advertisers and members, including an online holiday catalog program and the Wish List program, an ongoing survey of the member base that asks what types of products customers are planning to buy this holiday season.

Has the business been affected by this year's ailing economy? Treske says yes, although it's difficult to gauge how much. He said many companies, both traditional and new economy, have been retrenching and conserving cash with respect to online marketing, but that many are coming back to push big sales for the fourth quarter.


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