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Yahoo, ACNielsen measure retail sales

The Net giant introduces a specialty research service that allows retailers to track offline sales spurred by online ad campaigns, the company's latest attempt to woo advertisers.

Yahoo on Monday introduced a specialty research service that allows retailers to track offline sales spurred by online ad campaigns, the Web portal's latest invention to woo advertisers.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Net giant partnered with ACNielsen, one of the United States' biggest media measurement companies, to introduce Consumer Direct, a market research tool. The service taps a panel of Yahoo Web surfers to divulge how effectively online advertising from companies such as Kraft Foods and Unilever drives people to buy in stores.

Consumer packaged goods companies "care about how much they sell (offline), but there's been a question in their minds about how effective their online programs are," said Robert Tomei, senior vice president at VNU, the parent company of ACNielsen. "This program allows them to put the two together.

"This is the first (service) in the industry that really links offline purchase behavior to online site visitation."

Yahoo's research fits into a broader industry offensive to prove the value of Web advertising, a still-hobbled industry after the dot-com fallout. Trade groups including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Online Publishers Association have organized research on the viability of the medium in the last year. In addition, Net publishers have adopted technology that helps them evaluate the backgrounds and preferences of site visitors to better sell ads.

Yahoo itself employs a research team and technology underpinnings to pinpoint prime audiences of interest for advertisers. By partnering with Schaumburg, Ill.-based ACNielsen, the Web giant will be able to tie retail sales back to types of people that saw its online ads, thereby helping marketers find their best target markets.

Consumer Direct, the first major partnership between Yahoo and ACNielsen, will track the Web surfing habits of 15,000 to 17,000 Yahoo users. These people also are part of ACNielsen's Homescan program, in which they scan the products they buy in stores. ACNielsen will tie both activities together to come up with its research. The company will use the data to determine the return on investment for an online ad campaign, including finding its effect on retail sales and brand loyalty.