AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for the ‘Ecommerce’ Category

What’s Next for Ecommerce?

Michael Zeisser of Libery Media delivered an engaging presentation at the 2012 Shop.org conference on the history of the Internet.  He outlined five primary phases of the industry in a concise and informative manner.  His offer that each phase or shift has generally lasted about 3 to 5 years was presented thoughtfully and supported by data.  If the theory is to be believed, we are soon approaching the next fundamental shift.

Briefly, Zeisser’s history lesson follows shifts from the days of the dial-up ISPs to the mobile device expansion of today:

  1. ISP as Content – AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve
  2. Web Portals – Yahoo, Lycos
  3. Search – Google
  4. User Generated – Social, Facebook, Twitter
  5. Mobile – apps, mobile web, we walk around with the Internet in our pockets

Ziesser stopped short of offering a prediction or opinion on what might be the next phase of the industry, but postulated that it is imminently upon us.  My focus is on how the next shift in the industry will impact (or in many cases be directly impact by) the world of digital commerce.  I am similarly avoiding predictions, but have contemplated those technologies that are certain to be at the center of it all.

So what will the next fundamental shift in ecommerce be?

Big Data

Beyond the hype and buzzword, when we finally get around to analyzing and making use of the petabytes of data that we as online merchants collect on our shoppers the experience of finding products will forever be changed.  This concept goes way beyond “you may also like” recommendations.  The data exists and the statistical techniques are already invented that can quite accurately predict exactly what I’m looking for based on a number of things that a website knows about me: my location, the keywords I typed at a search engine, my past shopping history, the time of the day.  Now we have to fully deploy this knowledge in the form of a consumer experience that “just knows.”  It’s a weeknight at 9pm in the summer, I’m likely watching the Yankee game on TV, surfing Amazon on my iPad, and just saw a commercial for a product.  The site should just know.  Play the odds and guess what i’m doing based on everything it knows about me.  It will take a few years to hone the algorithms, but I fully expect we’ll get there.  Scary.

Voice

Checking sports scores on Siri is just the beginning.  Combine Big Data with a semantically aware assistant who really understands what you want and the concept of browsing a website and clicking or smudging around will forever change.  As craftsmen of the visual user experience for online retail, the notion that our beautiful and highly-converting designs may one day join the annals of Internet phases past is terrifying.  But I believe it’s true.  And designing ecommerce experiences around voice will the next frontier.

Alex: Siri, my wife said we need diapers.

Siri: You probably mean the Size 3 Swaddlers for Nina.  Lesters.com can have them to you tomorrow for $20.  Shall I order them?

Alex: Yes, and have them send a gift for my wife.

Siri: They recommend this bracelet to go along with the earrings you bought her last year for your anniversary.  Shall I add them to the order?

Alex: Yes, thanks.

Siri: Forever in your service, Alex.

Same-Day Delivery

The retail industry continues to evolve to one of on-demand fulfillment.  The majority of American populace will soon live close enough to a major distribution center (DC) capable of trucking an item to your front door the same day you order it.  Amazon’s finally getting around to deploying the shiny robots they bought when they acquired Kiva, and it’s estimated that robot automation will increase the items a single warehouse picker can gather from 160 an hour to 600 an hour.  If free 2-day shipping is the norm for 2012, will consumers expect free 2-hour shipping by 2014?  (I know many CFOs that sure hope not.)

3D Printing

For less than $3,000 you can now buy a high quality 3D printer capable of creating intricate products out of plastic.  More materials, larger sizes, and decreasing prices are coming soon.  Forget same-day delivery–you want that new case for your iWhatever?  Order it (by voice) from Apple.com and it will spit out of your 3D printer.  Marketplaces of interested designers have already started to grow and it’s just a matter of time before major consumer brands get into this space.

These are but 4 areas–Data, Voice, Delivery, and Printing–that are sure to play a major role in the future of ecommerce.  Admittedly, it’s awfully shortsighted to not consider the impact of global ecommerce growth on the next fundamental Internet shift.  China should overtake the US online retail market by 2013 or 2014.  And what’s to keep the Chinese manufacturers of most of the products we buy from building their own DCs all over the US and Europe and selling direct to consumers?  (Answer: nothing, they’re going to do it and cut out the American/European middleman some day.)

Wherever it happens, I endorse Zeisser’s model and there’s no question that we’re sitting on the precipice of the next fundamental shift in our industry.

Ecommerce

Stop & Stor Goes Mobile!

Earlier this summer and on the tails of a full-site redesign, Ai Emerge launched a mobile site for Stop & Stor.

After the launch of the full-site redesign, mobile accounted for 25% of site traffic and was trending up. This was the perfect opportunity to mobilize!

The new mobile engagement included discovery, user experience, design, and development work. The discovery and user experience phase was crucial in providing a strong baseline to begin the project. Our strategy was to look at the quantitative data to help drive our recommendation, but to also get in mindset of the end-user: busy people searching for storage in a big city. In doing so, we were able to identify the most useful features to include in the mobile site. These features included simple and straightforward search options, easy ways to contact locations, and pay bills on the go.

In the design phase, we aimed to uphold the brand identity while effectively translating it to a mobile platform. We optimized graphics to target not just the iPhone but other popular mobile devices like the Android, as well as tablet. We designed graphics to load quickly and degrade gracefully on older devices.

During the development phase, we leveraged and optimized the existing CMS so the business had a streamlined process to make site updates across both full-site and mobile platforms. This helped to minimize overhead for updating content. We also ensured that the interface behaved just as efficiently for the end-user. We implemented mobile best practices such as using advanced device detection so the site would load properly on any device, while including the option for the user to toggle their interactive experience from desktop to mobile.  In addition, we used mobile-specific fields, forms and interactions to enhance accessibility and usability across devices.

Since the site launched in July 2012, mobile traffic has already improved! Time spent on the site along with usage of the reservation system has increased resulting in a -21% change in bounce rates, a 13% increase in average visit duration, and a 93% increase in utilization of the online reservation system.  Because of the improved mobile user experience, increased usage of site functions and time spent has shown that users are much more engaged than before.

We are so excited about this result and look forward to continuing our partnership with Stop & Stor.

Ai

Channel Jumping – Omnichannel Techniques for Retailers

A major component of Transactional Intelligence is knowing what your user is expecting before they do.  At Alexander Interactive we know quite a bit about what users typically expect when it comes to a digital workflow, but a new area of exploration for us has been users’ expectations in an Omnichannel world.

Omnichannel introduces a lot of new complexity to the world of digital because, as the name implies, covers multiple devices, locations and needs – all of which link back to the ultimate expectation: a purchase.  But in order to better understand and serve a user in an Omnichannel world, we need to think of these experiences as extensions of the digital world.  And they are not just an extension of their buying experience, but also a part of a user’s larger shopping experience.

First, it’s important to state that Omnichannel assumes that a brand has both a physical and digital presence that allows for direct-to-consumer sale of products in a retail model: either of products manufactured by the brand or resold by the brand.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not diving into the use of multichannel devices to help operate back-office systems or coordinate with buyers or distributors.  I’m also not going to break down the multi-channel aspects of pure digital businesses that have no physical store to contend with.  The goal here is to understand users’ motivations and options and how it connects with a physical retailer’s digital presence.

Ecommerce

Hello Cyber Week (R.I.P. Cyber Monday)

Cyber Monday 2011 was the single biggest day of online shopping.  Ever.  And, some of our earlier predictions of sales continuing to hold strong beyond Monday have held true: the newly dubbed “Cyber Week” saw online retailers rake in $6 billion, according to comScore.  This is up 15% from the same period in 2010.

Consumers expect deals, sales, and discounts all week long.  In fact, they will expect them up until the very last day that they can get free shipping and guaranteed delivery before December 24th.  The implication for the savvy marketer is that one must no longer just focus on readying promotions for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but instead on a strategy that continues to keep a site top of mind throughout the entire holiday shopping season.

Will 2012 bring Cyber Month?

Ecommerce

Cyber Monday is a Thing of the Past

While I was sitting on the couch at my family’s house last Friday casually surfing the sales online via my iPad, I realized that I was having a lot of trouble processing what offers were “Black Friday” deals and what purchases I should wait on until the real sale kicks in. Should I buy it now and get free shipping, or wait until Cyber Monday to get it at a deeper discount? Would it be discounted? Would there be any left? After asking family members about their online holiday shopping strategies it became clear: nobody knew what to expect when it came to Cyber Monday sales.

It appears that it is intentional on the part of retailers. Rather than playing the “compete on price and discount” game with other retailers wherein they slash their margins just to steal eyeballs, they are choosing to encourage and reward their most loyal (and patient) customers with more specific offers in the days that preceded and followed Cyber Monday, as Alex highlighted this Daily Reflector article yesterday.

Even more, the walls between the physical store and the “cyber” store have evaporated for most retailers. No longer is it relevant to have separate sales in-store for “Black Friday” and online for “Cyber Monday” for the same products. Empowered with smartphones, the mobile price check has become the weapon of choice for price-conscious consumers who will often carry the Cyber Monday deals into the store to garner the same discounts on the same products by the method that’s most convenient for them. This realization Alex also discusses in AOL Daily Finance reinforces the idea that consumers see one brand across all shopping channels, forcing the physical/digital price parity that is apparent this year.

As for me, I’ll just wait and see what special tablet-only private deals I can get from my favorite stores through their iPad apps.

Ecommerce

Pew Study Highlights Growing Tablet Use

Last week BGR posted a great infographic visualizing the results of a Pew study on how tablet users are consuming their news. The findings of the research confirmed findings by Forrester, specifically that people who own tablets use them – a lot. According to the study 77% of tablet owners use their tablets daily.

The study also showed that tablet owners spend an average of 95 minutes per day on their tablets. With Apple reporting record iPad sales (over 11 million sold last quarter), these findings show that e-retailers can only expect the amount of visits from tablet-wielding consumers will continue to grow exponentially.

Some of the most interesting numbers coming out of the study centered around the use of native apps versus mobile browsers. Almost twice as many responders reported using mobile browsers as their main news source compared to apps (40% for browsers, 21% for apps), which shows the importance for having sites optimized for tablet users.

As shown in Ai’s T-Commerce Report, even the largest internet retailers are still struggling to capture this up-and-coming demographic. This report shows that while a few retail giants have capitalized on the t-commerce market with responsive designs, larger calls to action and gesture friendly interfaces (Nike is a prime example), most e-commerce giants are falling behind the curve when it comes to t-commerce. Even Amazon is showing slow adoption of t-commerce best practices in its new redesign; though their new fashion deal site, MyHabit, is highly optimized for t-commerce.

For more on how you can optimize your site for t-commerce check out Alex’s article “Make Way for T-Commerce” or download the T-Commerce Report.

Ecommerce

Amazon Redesign: A Small Step Towards T-Commerce

When it comes to e-commerce there is no bigger name than Amazon.com. So when the world’s largest online retailer recently began rolling out a redesign to a small segment of its users, there was no doubt it would make waves.

A recent Wall Street Journal report speculated that the new site foreshadows the debut of a new Amazon tablet, citing the new site’s simplified feel and larger buttons. But when it comes down to it, the redesign still falls short on some t-commerce fundamentals.

Navigation

The new homepage has a much cleaner, more modern look. The new silver navigation and heavy use of white space definitely feel more up-to-date, taking cues from the Dieter Rams/Jonathon Ive school of desaturated minimalism.  This change emphasizes elements like promo images and the count of in-cart items, but raises an interesting challenge for the strength of Amazon’s brand as the formerly omnipresent blue and orange color scheme has been relegated to near nonexistence.

The majority of the redesign efforts seem concentrated in the top navigation, which has been simplified and improved with larger buttons. The biggest improvement UX-wise comes in the form of a navigational flyout that swoops out of the “Shop by Department” button. The menu’s bold black text on a white background look great on both monitors and tablets and the grey text blends in enough to not be obtrusive. The drop-down also includes the sexiest feature of the redesign with its new images hanging out of the menu itself over the page behind it.

Another nice touch on the new navigation bar is the shopping cart button that shows products (with images) in customer’s cart upon being clicked.  This is very UX and t-commerce friendly in that it lets users peek at their cart without interrupting the shopping experience.

Site Search

One of the biggest UX changes for the site as a whole is the new search bar, which takes center stage as the focal point of the improved top navigation. For a retailer with products as varied as Amazon, making the search the primary focus is in many ways ideal for a t-commerce interface. The first thing users will notice is the new drop-down that appears when clicked/tapped, displaying daily deals with accompanying images. This is a great use of an “Easter egg” to save space on the page below.

The search functionality has room for improvement in its predictive suggestions. The selectable terms on the type ahead search drop-down are still quite small, making this feature is among the least tablet friendly aspects of the new site. Not only are the search terms too small to tap (especially if you have big fingers), but there are too many of them. On an iPad the type ahead drop-down falls underneath the on-screen keyboard. A more user-friendly solution would be to give fewer options with larger clickable areas., not unlike the daily deals drop-down.

Hero Images

The redesign’s most drastic changes are immediately below the top navigation. With the former category navigation buttons on the left consolidated to the top navigation’s drop-down menu, the page takes on a two-column layout that is very thumb-friendly for tablet users.  Everything seems clearly and intuitively divided into buttons that can be easily pressed with thumb or the other.

The main hero image has been completely changed with the new look. The old Amazon has one hero image touting the latest Kindles. The new hero area has two stacked promos with slider navigations that allow for 13 total options. While one hero may not have been enough for Amazon’s merchandisers, 13 is a bit much to digest,  resulting is a sleek and navigable but unrefined hero scheme.

T-Commerce Shortcomings

When put into portrait orientation on a tablet, the new site is just as unusable as the old design. Throughout the site a vertical format yields pages too wide to be read or navigated without zooming in, resulting in minuscule pricing values, unreadable reviews, and effectively invisible calls to action. An ideal solution would be dynamically flexing this layout to pare down some of the horizontal elements when in a portrait orientation (e.g. dropping a row of five suggested products to three).

Another t-commerce question mark hanging over the new Amazon is speed. In Ai’s testing, page load time was significantly slower on the new site. This could be a real barrier to entry for some tablet users. The new promo images are undoubtedly pretty, but taking longer to load could end up hurting the bottom line.

To be truly tablet friendly, Amazon will also need improved product pages. Seemingly untouched by the redesign, the current product pages force tablet users to squint and swipe as they poke around for buttons taking them to some of their most desired links. A product page redesign (which could be just over the horizon) could solve this by corralling cluttered text into concise links and collapsing unnecessary information out of sight.

Improving T-Commerce UX

While the new design is definitely a welcome update, it definitely not a huge improvement in terms of optimizing the site for t-commerce. The minimalistic design makes for stronger visual cues in important areas of the site, but if users need to zoom in on areas they can’t see those cues can quickly end up out of view.

For true t-commerce optimization Amazon should revisit the site’s user-interface on a tablet device. Making sure that tappable areas can accommodate larger fingers by limiting the amount of options displayed.

Using CSS3 media queries to adjust the layout of the site’s product pages and increase the tappable area within faceted navigation or mega drop-downs would also vastly improve the user experience.

Complex pages also could be reworked by moving elements around the page to match Amazon’s business and merchandising requirements by, for example, move product reviews above the fold on a tablet to emphasize user-generated content.

Truly committing to tablet UX also includes a commitment to gesture-based navigation where applicable, like giving users the ability to swipe and drag hero images to cycle through them.

The new Amazon.com is slightly more tablet friendly, but it is far from an optimal solution. The redesign is definitely a move in the right direction for t-commerce, but only a half-step.

For more on Ai’s approach to t-commerce, read Alex Schmelkin’s article “Make Way for T-Commerce”  in E-Commerce Times.

Written with contributors Ed Samour and Seth Whitton

Ecommerce

EBay Acquires Magento

Ebay today announced they are acquiring everyone’s favorite ecom platform Magento.  They already owned 49% of the platform and have announced plans to roll Magento into some new X.Commerce initiative.  This is a very smart move for EBay.  Have recently acquired GSI to offer an enterprise solution at the very top of the online retail food chain, EBay can even more effectively compete at the entry- and mid-levels of ecommerce.

We’re huge fans of Magento here at Ai, and will be watching this development closely.  On the one hand, the additional engineering resources, marketing, product stewardship, and enterprise support will be welcomed by ecom brands and developers alike.  Graduating from a 49% strategic investment to a fully-blown integrated product suite should come with the commensurate level of attention from EBay execs.

On the other hand, all too often we’ve seen thriving software platforms gobbled up by larger companies primarily with the intent of folding the acquired company’s customers into the acquirer’s existing product suite.  This may not be welcome news for us Magento devs out there that enjoy direct access to the source code of the product and significant engineering accumen and performance tuning experience on the platform.

We will certainly keep our eyes on this and report back to our friends and clients any important implications.  In the meantime, congratulations to the folks at Magento and founder Roy Rubin.

Ecommerce

Fun with Google Correlate

Google recently released Google Correlate, a fascinating tool that correlates user-supplied data sets with search terms.  From big Goog’s blog post:

Using Correlate, you can upload your own data series and see a list of search terms whose popularity best corresponds with that real world trend.

We’re data nerds here, obsessed with trends, the wisdom of the crowd, analytics, and optimization.  The possibility to find meaningful trends for our customers (and the greater good!) are too large to fathom–and can quickly give you a headache when you think about the power of correlating people’s interests around the world with trends in our own data.

So I decided to give it a try.  With a layup, as it were.  What would happen if I fed the weekly pageviews to the Ai site into the magic machine?  I know that one of the more common ways people land at our site is by searching for “alexander interactive,” but could GoogleCorrelate2000 figure this out from our pageviews?

YES.  In 1.20 seconds (much of which certainly was network latency).  I pasted 52 rows of data, and as a reminder for those reading along, didn’t tell Google what the data was.  She didn’t know I was interested in Alexander Interactive.  She gots dates and some numbers.  And here was her response:

google correlate alexander interactive

Now it’s time to have some fun with this.  Google generously allows you to use their Search By Drawing tool.  Draw a line, see what it’s correlated with.  I had to cut myself off as you could spend hours with this:

downfall of us all

We’re so taken with this tool that we are holding an internal contest for the one among us to find the most interesting, useful, or important search term trend in one of our analytics or ecommerce data sets.  The victor wins the admiration of his/her colleagues.  And free lunch at any local eatery.  Stay tuned for more on Google Correlate.

Ai

Ai and Canopy at IRCE

We are gearing up with excitement for this year’s Internet Retailer Conference and Expo. Canopy CEO (and erstwhile Ai director of strategy, and, well, yours truly) David Wertheimer will be giving his live website critiques for the fourth time, and Ai and Canopy have a large and gorgeous expo floor booth in the works.

If you’ll be attending the conference, do stop by and say hi. See you in San Diego!

Ecommerce