We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for the ‘Ecommerce’ Category

Ai Wins IMA Award for My Ring Pop

Ai Takes Home “Best in Class” from Interactive Marketing Awards for My Ring Pop® Website

NEW YORK (June 19, 2013) – The Interactive Marketing Awards (IMAs) has awarded Alexander Interactive (Ai) a 2013 “Best in Class” designation in the consumer goods category for the web design and ecommerce firm’s design and development of the My Ring Pop® website. My Ring Pop® is a brand of Bazooka Candy Brands, which is a division of the The Topps Company, Inc. The “Best in Class” award is the highest honor bestowed by the IMAs; it represents the best in planning, execution and overall professionalism in the industry.

“We are thrilled to receive another ‘Best in Class’ designation from the Interactive Marketing Awards,” said Alex Schmelkin, founder and CEO of Ai. “The Ai team had a blast bringing My Ring Pop® to life with a vibrant, user-friendly ecommerce experience.”

Ai was engaged to build an interactive space where people would be able to customize their own Ring Pop® lollipops for any occasion. Customers can select their preferred flavors and wrappers to celebrate engagements, bachelorette parties, birth announcements, or graduation events. The experience was created to inspire and delight its users by providing user-generated content from around the web that is delivered in a fresh, brand-relevant voice.

“We realized that the power of Ring Pop’s nostalgia and consumers’ overall love for the product could extend beyond the typical youth audience,” said Scott Utke, director of marketing for Topps. “We knew that Ai would be the perfect partner to launch My Ring Pop® into the marketplace, bringing the joy of ‘wearable bling’ to Ring Pop fans of all ages, and we couldn’t be happier with the result.”

Created by the Interactive Media Council, Inc. (IMC), a nonprofit organization of leading web designers, developers, programmers, advertisers and other web-related professionals, the IMA competition is designed to elevate the standards of excellence on the Internet. IMC serves as the primary sponsor and governing body of the Interactive Media Awards™, establishes the judging system and provides the judges for the competition.

Ai defines and implements unique digital commerce experiences for innovative brands. We are dedicated to the principle of Transactional Intelligence, which focuses on behavior, action and measurable success. Ai builds award-winning sites for clients including Lowe’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Schwinn, Citi, Time Inc., Pepperidge Farm and

Bazooka Candy Brands is a division of the Topps Company, Inc. Founded in 1938, Topps is a leading creator and marketer of sports and related cards, entertainment products, and distinctive confectionery. Topps entertainment products include Major League Baseball, National Football League, and other trading cards, sticker album collections, and collectible games. The Company’s confectionery brands include “Bazooka” bubble gum, “Ring Pop,” “Push Pop,” “Baby Bottle Pop” and “Juicy Drop Pop” lollipops. For additional information, visit,, and


wEbVOLUTION Timeline

A history lesson and evolution timeline brought to you by Ai…


The World Wide Web debuted to the public, for free, 20 years ago today. Yup, only 20 years ago. Here was the first website, which has been re-released by CERN for this occasion:

First WWW web site


Our founder, Alex Schmelkin, made his first website for Hofstra University 17 years ago. Check it out:

Alex's first web site


The year Ai’s created its VERY FIRST WEBSITE. The lucky client?

Ai's very first web site


We developed our first ecommerce website for is ranked 153 on the Internet Retailer Top 500.


That’s now! This month we launched, with e-commerce and custom product configuration. Voila!

Any guesses what websites will look like and what technologies will be important in another 20 years?


The Power of Video as a Selling Tool

Video is a powerful tool to help retailers merchandise more effectively. The bottom line is that video, done right, boosts conversion. Let’s look at some quick data and case studies that are out there to back this up:

  • Zappos reported conversion rates from 6% to 30% higher for products featuring video product descriptions (demos).
  • Internet Retailer reports that customers were 85% more likely to buy than customers who didn’t view video.
  • found that customers who viewed video on their site converted 400% more than customers that did not.

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Retailers all over the web are finding that video increases customer engagement, leading to increased email opens, more time on site, more viral marketing activity, and ultimately more sales.

Ways Video Aids Retailers

  • Video Promotes Engagement – Customers who watch video spend more time at your site exploring, learning more about your products, and ultimately purchasing. Comscore has reported an average 2-minute longer stay at a site for users who watch video. Users want to engage with video – one study by Implix reports a 96% higher click-through rate for video email vs. text.
  • Video Boosts SEO – Google rewards sites that produce original video, generally boosting overall site rankings. According to Forrester, videos have a 53x higher likelihood of being on the first page of Google results, versus pages. YouTube videos are almost completely indexed. Bottom line – produce video and you are much more likely to be found on Google, and ranked highly.
  • Video is Social – People love watching video, and love sharing video with their friends. Retailers that publish videos to their Facebook pages often find that the number of video likes far outstrips likes for other types of postings.

Using Video to Increase Sales

There are a number of ways retailers can use video to increase sales. Broadly, these fall into the following categories:

  • Product Merchandising – Video product descriptions can be used to call out key product features and benefits, and tout differentiators. Showing the product in use and in context is something that text and photos can’t accomplish nearly as well. Illustrating a novel product use or difficult to explain feature can make the difference in a sale. Don’t have the resources to create your own product video? Link out to YouTube, industry, or manufacturer videos that feature the product in question.
  • Category / Brand Merchandising – Videos for a category of products will tout customer benefits, lifestyle vignettes, and comparative product reviews. If a product is technical in nature, a category video can highlight and compare product features and specifications, and provide useful comparisons. Videos for a brand of products can highlight lifestyle attributes that embody the brand and that the customer will identify with. Showing contexts in which a category of products are in use can give the customer confidence that they have identified the correct solution for their needs.
  • Global Value Proposition – Have free shipping both ways? Do you provide a 110% money back guarantee? Have a trusted industry professional endorsing your company or brand? Providing a video that speaks to the values your site or brand embodies can be a good way of giving consumers confidence that they should purchase from you.
  • Video Reviews – Video reviews and other user-generated content can be a powerful and economical way to capture customer enthusiasm and criticism. They provide a trusted 3rd party perspective to other customers, who generally view these types of reviews as highly credible.
  • How To / Support – If your product has to be set up, configured, cared for, or otherwise maintained, support videos can help both you and the customer. This type of video can help you reduce customer support costs, but can also lead to increased sales as customers are more confident that there is a reputable, caring company standing behind the purchase.

Making Your Video Stand Out

To make sure the video you produce is the best it can be, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Have a Personality – dry, emotionless video is the worst. Keep it interesting, lively, fun, engaging. Or geeky, spacey, and chintzy. Just choose a direction that has some personality, and employ it consistently.
  • Keep it Brand-Consistent – decide what your brand stands for, and keep the presentation consistent. Zappos found that employees, rather than models, worked better, and customers trusted them more. Look at what your brand stands for and shoot video accordingly.
  • Make it Work – Sounds simple enough, but your video should work across channels (desktop / tablet / mobile), load quickly, and allow good controls for playback and sharing.
  • Test It – Before you decide to put out your video, put it away for a few days, then watch it. Show it to a few friends and family. Ask their opinions, ask how they would improve it. Your little gem of an idea may not be all it could be, and it’s better to realize that earlier rather than later.

On Another Note – Video Is a Killer App for T-Commerce

Tablet users are particularly susceptible to video merchandising. A survey by Forrester Research showed that watching video was one of the top daily activities of tablet users. Research shows that tablet users prefer a “lean back” browsing experience where they can watch and learn in the comfort of their living room and bedroom. Video provides an ideal delivery medium in this lean back world – users simply click once and can be fully engaged for several minutes. T-commerce initiatives should always include a nod to video as a preferred method of consuming information, as opposed to reading and parsing dense textual information.  As tablet penetration increases in the coming years, video is going to be a key strategy for all retailers.

To sum up – video works. It has been proven to be a powerful selling tool that boosts conversion rates, engages customers, and promotes viral marketing. You can start right away by looking at what competitors are doing in your space. If no one is doing video, congratulations, you have an instant competitive advantage. If your competitors are using video, time to catch up and do it better.


What’s Next for Ecommerce?

Michael Zeisser of Libery Media delivered an engaging presentation at the 2012 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.


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. 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 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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.