Ecommerce 2.0?

Paul Boag

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.