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The top 10 trends shaping the future of ecommerce

Michael Piastro
The top 10 trends shaping the future of ecommerce Michael Piastro

Ecommerce is changing rapidly, and consumers are expecting more from your site. Embracing modern techniques can invigorate your business while allowing for increased growth in sales. The 10 strategies below will help supercharge your ecommerce efforts.

Dynamic personalization (otherwise known as collective intelligence)
Your site is collecting analytics data from thousands of visitors every day, and has been for years. How much of this data are you utilizing? Dynamic personalization puts it to use, immediately and with surgical precision. When a customer visits your site -- without even logging in -- a shopper's persona is defined within a few interactions, and business rules are applied to surface relevant content and functionality. Dynamic personalization providers such as Baynote and RichRelevance can provide the tools to best serve your customers' individual interests and shopping habits.

Social network integration
Social networking isn't exactly new, but social shopping imperatives are constantly evolving. At the most basic level, integrating a "share" button that enables users to share your content to their favorite social networking destinations is a good first step, as is integrating Facebook "like" button functionality. At a slightly higher level of customization and effort, there are login and review/ratings integration tools such as Facebook Connect. Sites like Social Commerce Today stay on top of social shopping trends and provide more robust examples of retailers leveraging social shopping integrations.

Mobile sites
Over the past year, we have seen massive increases in traffic and transactions completed at client mobile sites. The age of the mobile site is truly upon us. Mobile consumers have different needs than users browsing on the desktop, and mobile devices have their own set of capabilities and limitations. A dedicated mobile site experience is a must for progressive ecommerce retailers.

Location-based tie-ins
The GPS capabilities of mobile devices usher in a new era of exciting location-based cross-channel promotion capabilities. Examples include promoting products that were shopped for online when the shopper is in proximity to a physical store, pushing promotions available at nearby physical locations, and providing interactive directions and pickup and availability notifications for previously viewed items. Apps like Foursquare allow you to extend your reach by pushing promotions and specials and rewarding repeat shopping.

Experiential user interface
Beyond simply being easy to use, modern ecommerce sites for innovative brands can be experiential and immersive, transforming shoppers into brand loyalists by evoking an emotional reaction. For example, Lowe's Sunnyville provides a game-based metaphor for shopping for lawn and garden products and project planning.

Contextual visualization
Shoppers increasingly expect to visualize how a product will fit into their life and style. Retailers that allow shoppers to visualize how products look on them and match with other products they are shopping for or already own will have a significant leg up in the ecommerce marketplace.

Dynamic grid expansion and liquid layouts
Ecommerce sites are typically designed to work in 1024x768 resolution in order to support users with older technology. Trapping your product display in this fixed width doesn't cater well to the increasingly larger percentage of users who browse your site at resolutions of 1280, 1440, or 1600. Utilize liquid layouts to automatically size your product display based on the shoppers' resolution. Alternatives include showing more images at once, and dynamically scaling to larger images on both category listing and product detail pages.

We have found that the "view all" link is the most clicked link on the most ecommerce category listing pages. Shoppers don't want to page through screens of products -- they want to see all of them at once. Consider an infinite scroll metaphor in order to display large sets of products in a scrollable list, rather than asking shoppers to jump page to page.

Minimize UI cruft
Shoppers come to your site to see your products, not your fancy navigation systems. Yet most ecommerce sites spend a majority of screen real estate dedicated to navigation and ancillary functionality, and a minority of real estate dedicated to product. Modern ecommerce websites will reverse the trend and dedicate 75 percent of screen real estate to show product, with 25 percent for supporting navigation, not the other way around.

Dynamic HTML and AJAX technologies have been a boon to shoppers the world over. Instead of having to reload a page every time the shopper clicks, these technologies enable a world of rich interactions that are nearly instantaneous. While not new, most sites are still just scratching the surface of how to use these technologies in a robust manner. Here are some examples of how to take your DHTML into the modern era:

  • Mega drop down: Mega dropdowns offer large panels that are easy to access, break navigation choices into logical groupings, and can feature dynamic or interactive content.

  • Robust wizards and comparison tools: Guiding shoppers to products that are relevant to them based on their needs and providing detailed, interactive comparisons between products can be taken to the next level using DHTML and AJAX.

  • One page checkout: Why make your shoppers click through multiple page reloads, when you can let them complete their purchase all on one page?

  • Product option selection: Showing product availability in different option combinations (for example, colors and sizes) is a common UI problem.

  • DHTML kung fu: Individually, DHTML techniques like promo carousels, tabs, scrollers, and other DHTML widgets can be powerful merchandising tools individually. Combined, they can allow you to take your site to new heights.

Get textual
Designers have been limited to a handful of "web-safe" fonts since the dawn of the web, and have had to hardcode anything else into images, slowing downloads and making custom messaging and personalization difficult and time-consuming. Not anymore. With the advent of HTML5 and font-serving technologies such as TypeKit, the web designers' typographic palette has been opened up as never before. This isn't just a design nicety, but rather a critical innovation that will allow savvy companies to deliver targeted, personalized message in brand-consistent ways for the first time. The impact doesn't stop there; not having to use images for any custom fonts leads to faster page downloads and great accessibility of type to search engines and disabled users. 

Michael Piastro is the user experience director at Alexander Interactive.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Satish Singh

2011, February 21

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Commenter: Ben Acheson

2010, November 08

I think dynamic and managed personalisation represent the next big thing.

Social media is over-hyped and mis-used. Where's the ROI? Stop advertising and start engaging.

Mobile websites? Mobile screens are getting bigger. Tablets are the next big thing in mobile. So I think it will become less important to have a miniature website with minimal functionality so that people can attempt to find a good user experience on clunky old-fashioned devices.