Ecommerce 2.0?

There is a lot of hype surrounding the new generation of websites that are emerging. Collectively they are labelled web 2.0 applications, largely because they behave more like desktop applications than websites. The question is how the underlying principles of web 2.0 will expand beyond the current raft of “web applications” to encompass more traditional websites. For example, how can web 2.0 principles and technologies benefit a typical ecommerce site?

Google Suggest.

  • The ability to filter products on the fly without page reloads in order to narrow the selection of possible products.
  • A slicker "compare and contrast" facility that enable the user to look at products side by side.
  • The option to sort product listings by price, size or any other criteria without page reloads.
  • The option to tag favourite products or hide unwanted products from the listings
  • Saved searches that notify you by RSS when new products are realised meeting your search criteria.
  • The list could go on and may even include an open architecture that allows you to compare products across sites.

    Managing your shopping basket

    We all know that a huge percentage of shopping baskets are abandoned before checkout. The reasons for this are many and varied but a significant factor is the usability of the shopping cart process. All too often shopping baskets are unwieldy and distract from the shopping experience. Once again, Web 2.0 technologies can provide significant improvements.

    • The ability to add products to a shopping basket using drag and drop as well as the conventional "add to basket" button.
    • Persistent shopping baskets that are on screen all the time but do not need page refreshes to update.
    • Shopping baskets that are saved automatically, like draft emails in Gmail. This prevents users loosing shopping carts due to dropped connections or timeouts.
    • The ability to save shopping baskets instantly, for future repeat ordering without interrupting the current shopping process.

    The checkout process

    The checkout process is often the most painful part of the user experience and can often make or break an ecommerce site. Large ecommerce players have gone to great lengths to shorten this process with systems such as "one click ordering". However, at the end of the day you cannot avoid those forms requesting user details if you are going to fulfil your orders. Out of the three parts of the ordering process, Web 2.0 has the most to offer the checkout process:

    • Postcode auto address completion, can be taken to a completely new level that no longer required page reload.
    • Forms can be validated instantly giving the user detailed feedback about any problems with their submission.
    • Repeat purchases can be sped up dramatically, with the ability to quickly and easily change shipping address and credit card details.
    • Fewer page refreshes means less chances of information being lost in transit.
    • Greater control over the functionality of forms allows unnecessary fields to be hidden until required. Why for example display the shipping address fields unless a user specifies their billing address is different.

    I am sure that the ideas I have outlined above only scratch the surface of how "Web 2.0" can help the average ecommerce site. The point is that there is a real opportunity here to improve the user experience and in doing so the conversion rate of these sites.

    What’s new?

    A lot of the functionality I outline here already exists on ecommerce websites. Indeed, you are probably asking what makes any of this original or different. In some senses you are right, much like Web 2.0 as a whole, none of this is new. However, what I hoped to highlight in this entry is that a small group of new sites are implementing existing technologies in new and existing ways and that these techniques can be easily transferred into traditional websites to improve functionality and increase return on investment. By using a small amount of "web 2.0 technology" on top of your existing ecommerce site, you can improve your conversion rate and increase profits. Whether you like the Web 2.0 buzzword or not, surely this is worth considering.

    • Brian

      A checkout surely can be complicated with some ecommerce solutions and I agree with the fact you need to ask so many questions of a customer if your to complete a successful order, but, let’s be serious, you only really need the post address, billing adress, email, phone, name, payment and shipping details.
      I’m sick of filling in 4 pages of details asking how my day was and If I’d buy from them again

    • Paul Boag

      Amen to that!

    • Nora Brown

      You have effectively made the case that ‘Web 2.0′ (and whom do we have to thank for that lovely epithet?) holds some real advantages for e-commerce sites. My question is, will the technologies of Web 2.0 be accessible to small web developers and site owners, or are they only for large companies with scores of programmers?

    • Paul Boag

      Some aspects are already available to smaller web developers and site owners Nora. A large part of web 2.0 is based on Javascript and many web developers are already very proficient with this. Even the more sophisticated elements really arent that complicated. This really is an approach which can be adopted by anybody.

    • colombia

      Well, i think, there are features nobody needs, DRAG AND DROP in and store, well, not many people will use or like it. The auto complete is really annoying, if i know what i’m looking for, why i need it, and in most servers it’s really slow!

    • Will

      I think this is all a great idea! E-commerce stores are falling behind quickly in their use of technology, and it’s about time we caught up.
      We need quicker, easier to use sites for our customers. Anyone who can help me build the dream site mentioned above please get in touch!!

    • jb

      HI Paul
      thx for your article, it’s realy interesting. By the way you don’t talk about the interactivity a 2.0 website create with his community.
      How can a website change that way, asking his client to participate to his devlopement? do you have any example.