Missing link in marketing data

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Moving beyond simply offering faster, cheaper versions of offline research, online researchers are looking to forge a missing link in market research-going beyond what consumers say to track what's most important to marketers-what they actually buy.

The year-old comScore last week announced its entry into the Web-measurement business, but with a twist-a "Buying Power Index" that tracks not only where its 1.3 million panelists go on the Web, but also what and how much they buy there. The company is also looking to develop ways to track consumers' offline buying behavior through such means as supermarket frequent-shopper data, credit-card purchases and motor-vehicle registrations.

"What we think might be one of the most powerful applications going forward is the ability to match [our database] with third-party databases," said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore.

ComScore's move follows Information Resources Inc.'s announcement last month that it's teaming with DoubleClick to track how consumers in its 55,000-strong panel respond to online advertising. The service, called e-testing, can track what consumers exposed to particular online ads buy-both online and off.

In a separate move aimed at linking consumer-survey research to purchase data, Knowledge Networks in September acquired Promotion Decisions Inc., gaining access to that company's database of 1 million supermarket frequent-shopper-club members.

Knowledge Networks' own panel of households use WebTV from Microsoft Corp.'s WebTV Networks. These households, expected to number 250,000 by next year, are recruited to be representative of the U.S. population as a whole. Overlap between the two databases should top 50,000.

Linking survey and purchase data provides more complete answers, said Mike Hess, exec VP of PDI. "Scanner data can tell you what happened," he said. "Household-panel data can tell you how it happened. And survey data tells you why it happened."

Such links aren't entirely new. IRI and rival ACNielsen Corp. have been doing limited survey research with their own panels, which also track purchases using home scanners, for years.


But Web-based research can be faster. Testing the purchase impact of online copy through e-testing takes about 13 weeks, about half the time of a similar TV copy test through IRI's BehaviorScan service, said Dan Scherr, exec VP-strategic business development at IRI.

ComScore's new Web-measurement service, netScore, aims at yet another link, combining consumer's online-purchase data with their Web-usage patterns, monitoring not only what online ads they see but everything they do and buy online, either while at work or home, by routing panelists through the company's own server.

Tracking purchases automatically is considerably more accurate than asking people to report what they buy, said Mr. Fulgoni, a founder and past CEO of IRI. In surveys, consumers overstate offline purchases by as much as two to three times and online purchases by 55%, he said, adding that demographics also fail to account for spending habits that don't necessarily match reported income.

ComScore rates Web sites not only based on traffic, but also on the online purchasing of users, through a measure called a "Buyer Power Index." In a system where 100 equals the dollar value of online purchases by the average Internet user, ComScore found BizRate.com's visitors rate at 533, Women.com's at 160, Netzero.com's at 75 and Freeinternet.com's at 66.4.

The BPI has major implications for online-media buying, Mr. Abraham said. "If one site has a BPI of 200 and another 100 and you buy media based on the same number of users, you get twice the buying power at the 200 BPI site."

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