Supercharging the Next Generation of E-Commerce

As e-commerce continues to evolve at a record pace, websites must keep up with the ever-changing demands of increasingly knowledgeable and sophisticated online shoppers.

Companies need to enhance their online presence by applying modern techniques and technologies — from dynamic personalization, social shopping, mobile sites and location-based tie-ins, to experiential commerce, contextual visualization, liquid layouts and dynamic HTML.

Dynamic Personalization and Social Sharing

A shopper’s “persona” can quickly become evident after just a few interactions on a website.

With dynamic personalization, that data can be used to enrich the online shopping experience, serving up fresh, relevant content and functionality to shoppers as they explore.

With social shopping imperatives constantly changing, it’s important to look for ways in which social networking facets can also be effectively integrated to maximize sales. Here are a few simple approaches to keep in mind.

  • Integrating a “Share” button into your interface will allow users to share site content to their favorite social networking destination.
  • Integrating Facebook “Like” button functionality can immediately popularize your site offering.
  • More sophisticated levels of customization and effort include such tactics as login integration and review/ratings integration tools, including the commonly used Facebook Connect.

Contextual Visualization and Product Emphasis

E-commerce sites often mistakenly spend a majority of screen real estate dedicated to navigation and ancillary functionality, while they devote relatively little real estate to their all-important product line.

That trend needs to be reversed — shoppers come to browse and shop for products, and not to simply admire fancy navigation systems. A site needs to reflect shopper demand and better showcase the items they’re interested in buying.

To that end, contextual visualization is an increasingly common Web tool, bringing the online shopping experience to life in an engaging way. Thoughtfully designed online features will help shoppers visualize how a product will fit into their life and style, and offer them unexpected and imaginative ways for exploring before they make a purchase. For example:

  • Prospective customers can visualize how products, such as clothing, look on them — essentially in a virtual dressing room.
  • They can then match a product with related shopping items, picking from a selection and “trying on” accessories or different outfits.
  • They can drag and drop home furnishings, accents, wallpaper or paint into a pre-set room or office setting to see how different items create a different effect.

Dynamic HTML and Instant Interactions

Dynamic HTML and AJAX technologies offer site visitors virtually instantaneous interactions, instead of lengthy page reloads that slowly respond to every click. Dynamic HTML allows for many innovations, for example:

  • Mega drop-down menus that offer large panels and are easy to access, break navigation choices into logical groupings, and can feature dynamic or interactive content.
  • Robust wizards and comparison tools that help guide shoppers to relevant products, and suggest alternative items or complementary products, based on their needs.
  • A “one-page checkout” to complete an online purchase on a single Web page.

Typography and Font-Serving Technologies

Designers have long been limited to a mere handful of “Web-safe” fonts and forced to hardcode almost anything else into images. But the advent of HTML5 and font-serving technologies (including TypeKit), has opened up the typographic palette in new and meaningful ways.

In fact, this trend can translate into targeted, personalized messages in remarkably brand-consistent ways. Likewise, not having to rely on images for any custom fonts can lead to faster page downloads and greater accessibility of type for search engines.

Mobile Expansion

It’s no secret that traffic and transactions completed on mobile sites have increased tremendously over the past year. All predictions point to those numbers continuously escalating in the near term. But mobile consumers have notably different needs from those shoppers casually browsing from their desktops. Here are some tenets to keep in mind when approaching a mobile interface design:

  • A dedicated, well-designed mobile site experience is a must for progressive e-commerce retailers.
  • Mobile devices have their own set of capabilities and limitations, meaning designers must adjust their approach accordingly.
  • Mobile sites should offer some brand and visual continuity from their web counterparts, but a radically lean style and streamlined content offering is a must for most mobile sites.
  • Location-based tie-ins and cross-channel promotional capabilities (made possible by the GPS capabilities of mobile devices) should be an integral component of any online site.

Best Practices and Testing

Best practices are called “best practices” for a simple reason: They work. Ensuring site design is based on well-articulated and understood best practices — from a website’s home page down to the final checkout receipt — will improve the overall site experience. Also, integrating A/B and multivariate (MVT) testing into the design process will invariably elevate the quality of any site. Testing also saves time and money by short-circuiting lengthy debate and review cycles.

Integrating these ideas into any e-commerce strategy will take a site to the next level. It will also satisfy increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumers, greatly enhancing their online experience, which in turn will result in more repeat visitors to your company’s website.

Michael Piastro is the user experience director at Alexander Interactive.

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