Posted June 6, 2007 1:26 pm by with 9 comments

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It is very clear to me that the biggest innovation in e-tailing in the next year will be in improving the customer experience. The Exhibit Hall here is full of companies that sell solutions to help customers navigate e-commerce sites more effectively. Software such as AJAX is driving this innovation.

The good news is that many of these concepts are very slick and change the shopping experience in a dramatic way. The bad news is that these solutions are expensive–often out of reach for small and medium sized businesses.

Here are some specific things you can expect to see on more retail websites over the next year:

1) Smart site search. If you are not concentrating on your site search capability, it is time to start. However, returning the right results to your customers is not going to be good enough in the near future. You will need to give them ways to manage the search results to further refine them.

2) Easier checkout. The linear approach to checking out of a website is going to change. In the future, customers will be able to check out quickly from any page of the site either with a sidebar or a flash-style popup. Single page checkouts are going to become common-place.

3) Integration of shop capability into pictures and video. While watching a video, a customer will be able to click on a shirt that a model is wearing and immediately see more information about that product along with the ability to add it to the cart.

4) Non linear navigation. Your customers may actually never leave the front page of the site. Instead, category or product windows will hover on top of the main page as the customer mouses over the screen.

It is important to understand that being the leader into these types of innovation has benefits and problems. Your customers simply may not be ready for this kind of functionality. You might want to move slowly if your target demographic is over 40. However, within three years, the linear approach to online shopping will probably almost disappear. Hopefully, by that time, the technology will be economically feasible for most e-tailers.

  • beava

    4) Non linear navigation.

    Will that approach present a challenge to the spiders.

  • This would be a great tips for online entrepreneurs.
    I blog it.
    Thanks for the tips.

  • Regarding the question about non-linear navigation confusing spiders, the answer is yes unless you plan carefully. It makes sense to leave much of the site in more traditional formats until the spiders can index content from these new technologies.

  • Wow .. all that sounds exciting (I’m a big fan of retail sites). Non-linear navigation worries me though, mostly from a tracking point of view; but I’m sure toolsets will keep up

  • I think history has proven that it is not a challenge to the spiders, but rather the lack of being able to bookmark, deeplink, or index a single URL for a single project is a challenge to eye candy techniques being useful for ecommerce sites. I’ve been around long enough to remember the hundreds of claims that all sites and stores will be flash and in recent years AJAX has become the flavor of the day. These technologies are great for apps and for augmenting a traditional store, but they will never be practical for shopping sites until they solve their major critical shortcomings listed above. Makes no difference how skippy the user experience is if people aren’t finding your products. You can bet on that.

  • The problems you mention are already able to be solved, partly by technology and partly with a paradigm shift. Developers and designers have to get past their paradigms to make this work and start presenting a better experience from the pogo-stick logic that has dominated up until this point.

  • Oh sure they’re solvable, always have been. Using flash as just another design element of your layout or AJAX as a way to make a non-indexing relevant aspect of a page is nothing new and certainly the right way to go. Problem is most ad agencies, art directors and graphic designers don’t have an inkling of a clue as to why SEO matters and why full fledged flash, AJAX, Silverback or Silverfish, whatever, type development is a dead end at the end of the day if it doesn’t act as only an enhancement of good old HTML. Seems to me that over the years Flash, Java applets, .NET monstrosities (AdCenter anyone?) and AJAX overload tends to make things less user friendly because designers are too eager to throw in the bells and whistles irregardless of whether anyone cares to experience them or not.

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  • 2) Easier checkout: Soon yahoo checkout and google checkout will be token characteristics on websites and could easily fulfill this function. Furthermore, stores can take advantage of the improved ROI these two checkouts offer (due to improved CTR’s and increased user trust and familiarity causing a small spike in conversions)

    3) Integration of shop capability into pictures and video: Not while we are in the hands of programmers 🙂

    4) Non linear navigation. = Landing pages

    1) Improved Site search: The closer it emulates Google the better… no + signs or anthing.