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.