After blogging about Omniture SiteCatalyst for a few years now, one of the topics I have always avoided discussing is Merchandising eVars (not to be confused with the separate Omniture Merchandising product). The reason for this, is that I find them to be very confusing and was sure that no matter how hard I tried to explain them, I would probably mess it up. For years, I have waited for someone to write about them, but seeing as no one has written extensively about them (at least according to a quick Google search!) and having been inspired by some other great blog posts I have read lately in which people have said that it is ok to not have all of the answers, I have decided to face my fears and go ahead and do my best to describe Merchandising eVars. My hope is that this post will serve as a first step in getting the SiteCatalyst community to understand these nuanced eVar and that it might spawn some good discussion and other blog posts by others who have spent a lot more time with them (like Kevin W.) so that one way or another, the topic will be adequately covered.
Why Merchandising eVars?
So why did Omniture make a special type of Merchandising eVar and why are they so complicated? If we go back in time to when I started using SiteCatalyst (version 9.x) and there were no Merchandising eVars, there were a few problems that existed. First was the Category parameter in the Products string. If you have been using SiteCatalyst for a while, someone has probably told you to NEVER use the first parameter (Category) in the Products string. They often don’t tell you why, but the reason is that if you do, the Product you pass will be forever tied to the Category in that string. That means that if you later decide to put the same product in a different product category, SiteCatalyst will ignore it and always use the first one it saw. If each of your products has only one product category and it will be that way forever, you can go ahead and use the Category parameter (or simply classify products using SAINT Classifications). But since most clients like to have products in more than one category, they asked for a way to assign the same product to different merchandising categories, hence, Merchandising eVars!
Let’s look at an example. Say that you have a retail site and that you sell ceiling fans, but those fans can be found by people going through “Lighting” or “Bedroom” product categories. Now let’s say that you would like to know how many Cart Adds or Purchases take place when people found ceiling fans through one of these product categories, but not the other. Sounds simple enough right? But it wasn’t in the past. If you had used the Products string to assign a specific ceiling fan to “Lighting,” it would always be bound to that product category. Instead, you would need a way to dynamically assign the specific product category for each product in each specific instance to get the data you were looking for. By doing this, you could see how often the ceiling fan was purchased via “Lighting” and how often it was purchased via “Bedroom.” Since then, there have been many different uses for Merchandising eVars, but I think it is important to understand the underlying problem that they were created to solve, as I find this helps to understand how they work and why they are different from traditional eVars. So when you think of Merchandising eVars just remember that their purpose is to assign a different eVar value to each product at the time Success Events take place.
Using Merchandising eVars
So now that we know a bit about how Merchandising eVars originated, let’s discuss how they are used. As you can imagine, connecting a different eVar value to each product is not a simple task. That is a lot of information for SiteCatalyst to keep straight! There would have to be some specific ways for you to implement this such that SiteCatalyst knows when you want each product to be tied to each Merchandising eVar value. Fortunately (or unfortunately!), SiteCatalyst has not one, but two methods of binding eVar values to products. One method is called Product Syntax and the other is called Conversion Variable Syntax.
I find the Product Syntax method to be the most straightforward, and what I recommend most often, so I will start with that one. In this method, you use a special parameter slot within the Products string to declare which Merchandising Category you want to assign to each product. To do this, let’s re-visit the syntax for the Products string:
As you can see, towards the end of the Products string, there is a slot reserved for setting Merchandising eVars. In fact, you can set more than one by using a “|” separator. Using this syntax, if a Cart Addition occurs, you can set your Cart Add Success Event and Merchandising eVars as shown in this example:
Here we can see that we are manually assigning the product category of “Lighting” to the product “Fan-11980″ at the time of Cart Addition. However, there are some back-end settings that also need to be made to allow for this to function properly. First, we need to call Omniture Client Care and ask that Merchandising be enabled for the appropriate eVar (eVar1 in this case). Once Merchandising has been enabled, we need to go to the Admin Console and select the Product Syntax option under the new Merchandising setting that will now be visible. When using Product Syntax, the second Merchandising setting (called Merchandising Binding Event) is disabled (but for some reason looks like you can use it!) so my advice is to just ignore that setting altogether. Here is what the settings should look like when you are done:
As with other eVars, you still have to decide what Allocation you’d like (First or Last) and how long the eVar should retain its value before it expires. But beyond that, you are good to go and the hardest part is making sure your developers are keeping track of which product categories should be associated with each product. If you know the value that you want to pass to the eVar for each product on the page (product category in the preceding example), I recommend you use the Product Syntax approach.
The second approach to setting Merchandising eVars is the Conversion Variable Syntax. This approach is a bit more confusing and is normally used when you want to associate a different eVar value to each product, but the value you want to set in that eVar is only known prior to the Success Event taking place, instead of on the same page. The only way I can think of to explain this is through an example. Let’s imagine that your boss wants to know which internal search phrases were used prior to each product being purchased. Now, let’s pretend that a visitor comes to the website and searches on “ceiling fans,” finds Product 123 in the list and adds it to the cart. Next, the visitor searches for “bathroom vanities,” again scans the list, finds Product 789 and adds it to the cart. Then the visitor purchases both items a few pages later. In this example, if we were to use a traditional eVar (with Most Recent allocation), each Cart Addition would be correctly associated with the correct search phrase – “ceiling fans” = product 123 and “bathroom vanities” = product 789. So far so good. But when the visitor purchases both products, guess which internal search phrase would get the credit? If you said “bathroom vanities” you are correct! Since that was the last search phrase SiteCatalyst saw, it would get credit for both products. This is because a traditional eVar cannot associate a different value for each product.
However, by using the Conversion Syntax and Merchandising, in this scenario, each product would be associated with the specific search phrase that was used to find it for both the Cart Add and Purchase Success Events. So how do we configure this? First, we would work with Client Care to declare eVar1 to be a Merchandising eVar. Next, we would decide when we would like to have Omniture bind the internal search phrase to the eVar value. For most clients, the default is to bind at the Product View (prodView) event and the Cart Add (scAdd) event (though you can choose from any Success Events you’d like). By binding to the Product View and Cart Add, you are telling Omniture that if one of those two events happens, you want Omniture to bind the last value passed to the Merchandising eVar (internal search phrase in our example) with the product being viewed or added to cart. This is how these settings would look in the Admin Console:
Well…there you have it. My first attempt at facing my fears and explaining about Merchandising eVars. Hopefully I got most of it right and if so, will maybe write another post in the future on the more advanced uses of Merchandising. In the meantime, for more detailed info on Merchandising eVars, please check out this Omniture white paper (login required). Please comment here and I will do my best to get any question answered. Thanks!