What’s Best, What’s Next
A Point of View on Building
Rich Online Experiences
by Doug Mack
Vice President & General Manager of
Consumer & Hosted Solutions at Adobe
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 1
Customer Experience Background and Drivers 3
Principles Driving Rich Experience Best Practices 3
Principle No. 1: “Content is (still) king” 3
Principle No. 2: Movement has meaning 5
Principle No. 3: Search gets sexier (Browse gets better too…) 7
Principle No. 4: Navigation when you need it 12
Principle No. 5: Make it personal and empowering 14
Principle No. 6: Shopping is becoming social. Hasn’t it always been? 16
Principle No. 7: Mobility and multi-channel momentum 17
What’s next? 17
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 2
Customer Experience Background and Drivers
Since last addressing online customer experience in eCommerce 3.0, How eCommerce Becomes a Uniquely
Great Experience, many of the key principles for creating rich, unique experiences remain unchanged; however,
many have now expanded and been further developed to reflect the changes in customer expectations, advances
in technology (applications, bandwidth, etc.) and growing best practices. Interestingly, the web shopping
experience continues to mirror or evolve towards the in-store shopping experience, and to surpass the direct
mail order experience by providing more relevant information textually and visually with increasing consumer
involvement and interactivity. Nonetheless, throughout this evolution, what remains constant is the critical
importance of creating great, highly differentiated, customer experiences, which are imperative for today’s
eCommerce managers as their businesses have been validated as one of the fastest growing retail channels.
Additionally, with the economic downturn and eCommerce growth rates slowing to single digits worldwide,
customer experience is even more important. According to The State Of Retailing Online 2008: Profitability,
Economy, And Multichannel Report, a Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research, October 2008, 72% of
retailers surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that “The online retail channel is better suited to withstand an
economic slowdown than the offline retail channel.” Another recent study validated in the retail industry a 66%
correlation between customer experience and repeat purchase. Thus asserting success will come to those focused
on customer retention strategies that ultimately build strong brands, shopper loyalty and repeat purchase.
Principles Driving Rich Experience Best Practices
Over the last three years, there have been some dramatic and not so dramatic changes to the key principles for
creating great customer experience. The following trends and best practices have been observed as the next wave
Principle No. 1: “Content is (still) king”
A picture is worth a thousand words, and bigger is better. These sayings clearly hold true for visual
merchandising in eCommerce as seen by the dramatic increase in use of imagery to merchandise a product
including additional views to showcase different angles, in context and even user-provided imagery. Not only is
there more product imagery, (with some retailers increasing the number of images per item to as many as 17 not
including color options), these images are now larger, embedded in the product, category and browse pages, and
they are all higher quality and zoomable to show customers intricate details. What was once critical “white space
real estate” only used for product copy and critical ordering information is now life size or larger-than-actual
imagery with product information “overlaid” on the image. Clearly, the impact of better quality and increased
quantity of imagery has high effectiveness. Recently reported in the The State Of Retailing Online 2008:
Merchandising And Web Optimization Report, a Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research, August 2008,
“of those using alternative images, 49% rated them very effective, while 80% of retailers planned to make them an
investment priority for the next 12 months.”
House of Fraser, Britain’s leading department store retailer of many of the world’s most famous brands, is a great
example of making its merchandise the focus of its product page.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 3
Product imagery is embedded into product page and critical copy and ordering information are layered over the
item. They copy area includes scrolling and tabs for more detailed information.
“In context” photo shows how this Dyson vacuum fits neatly into a small storage cabinet unlike other upright
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 4
Principle No. 2: Movement has meaning
By adding video, or animation, combined with voice, merchants can tell their shoppers a better product story
than just through the use of dynamic imagery or static copy. Videos can demonstrate products in use, show and
tell subtleties such as fit and feel, and turn the shopping experience into “active selling mode”. Qualitative user
testing has revealed that the shoppers’ eyes are always drawn to the largest visuals, but when competing with
animations or self-running videos - the moving visuals were viewed first. Users love to watch videos. If offered a
choice to click on a video versus any other rich media type, videos are clicked on most often.
Just as transitions in movies connect one scene to another, cinematic transitions and interaction feedback in
applications help keep the shoppers oriented so they always know where they have come from and where they
can go. They should not be used to just inhibit exploration of a site, but to guide users along. Even videos have
proven to significantly increase conversion; and despite a potential up to 2X increase in conversion rates, only a
minority of eCommerce managers currently use animations or video on their sites – surveys estimate that
approximately 21% to 30% of all websites use video.
Shop Direct, the UK’s leading online and home shopping retailer selling a huge range of fashion, footwear, home
and leisure products, recently produced and added over 1500 videos onto their nine eCommerce sites driving
double digit conversion increases. Their implementation was well integrated and complementary to product
imagery. Particularly helpful is the ability to view the video in two different sizes, one embedded in product page
and the other via a full-screen view as shown below.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 5
Complementary dynamic imagery provides more detailed views.
Movement also brings more meaning to both David’s Bridal and jcp.com. These sites have pushed the animations
and videos to their category pages, providing an experience that truly comes to life. Models walk into the web
pages, they move at the same time, and in some instances provide the ability to purchase directly from where the
video or animation is offered.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 6
David’s Bridal does an excellent job integrating animations throughout the shopping experience from browse to
product detail pages. On its category pages, any animation can be clicked on and viewed directly in the page, and
several can be viewed at the same time. On its product detail pages, these animations are cleanly integrated with
other dynamic imagery for more detailed, user-controlled viewing.
Principle No. 3: Search gets sexier (Browse gets better too…)
The focus of offering rich experiences should move beyond the product detail pages and home pages, to include
the browse, category and search results pages. In an effort to provide shoppers with more information quickly
and easily to shorten sales cycles and eliminate clicks to purchase, richer visual information should be made
available and consistently accessible throughout the website providing a totally immersive experience.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 7
SunglassHut.com is a rich Internet experience from end-to-end. Particularly unique on the site, is a shopper’s
ability to view different size visual thumbnail images based on the number of items he chooses to browse. While
the ability to change the number of items being browsed at one time is a common option offered on most
eCommerce sites, the Sunglass Hut site automatically increases the size of the visual thumbnails as the number of
items viewed decreases; thus providing shoppers better visual feedback despite showing fewer items at the same
time. Also, shoppers can easily drag and drop any of the thumbnails into a favorites folder or into a comparison
chart as well as view alternative images right on the category pages. Whether it is a category page or the search
results page, all the rich capabilities are available — a best practice that most sites have yet to implement. Finally,
another best practice demonstrated on the product detail pages is including alternative image views in every
color option and offering every image in a full-page zoomable view.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 8
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 9
Anthropologie’s Quick Shop makes browsing better with modal layers built in the category pages that display full
product detail information including zoom, product description, pricing and add to cart. In addition, browsing
shows all color options prior to clicking on the Quick Shop or product detail pages.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 10
Anthropologie also showed innovation by testing a desktop application, or widget, that connects to the web for
real-time updates. As a desktop application, web development or browser bandwidth limitations no longer
restrict the shopping experience. Built using Adobe® AIR®, this application visually searches items by color using
a color picker. Shoppers can drag their own photos from their desktops into the application and color match
items already owned or from other websites. Searching performance is superior and innovative.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 11
Another example of visual browsing improvements is the ability to show the size of the thumbnails in relative
size and proportion to each other. For example, floral arrangements come in different sizes both width and
heights. Displaying thumbnails in relative sizes enables shoppers to gain a better perspective of an item prior
to ordering, which helps eliminate customer dissatisfaction upon delivery, lowers returns and increases repeat
Principle No. 4: Navigation when you need it
Navigation when you need it combines the principle of “Content is king” with the concept of letting this content
drive the interface. Since content is what browsers care about most, and the “interface” or “chrome” is a barrier
between users and what they want, allowing them to work on, play with, watch, listen to, or otherwise focus
on the content, and not to see buttons and navigation enhance their experiences and drive loyalty. Keeping the
content center-stage, allows users to interact directly and minimize anything that takes away from its primacy –
mirroring the interactive, tangible experience of shopping in retail stores.
Too many sites create clutter for shoppers with user interface (UI) elements and choices. Instead of following
the typical path where the UI and controls are designed and built first in an application, let the content BE the
interface, and all interactions should fall naturally around it, enabling direct manipulation or in-line navigation.
A focused UI, especially when an item requires a make complex decision making process or offers many
customizable options, can help increase revenues by up to 40%, while shortening the sales cycle by 75%.
One of the first successful implementations of navigation when you need it includes NikeiD. On NikeiD, users
are allowed to custom design their own shoes by starting from “scratch” or with a suggested design. Users can
then click anywhere on the merchandise to be given that specific navigation to make custom choices. There is a
simple guide that indicates to users how much more they have to complete prior to completing their custom
ordered items. Importantly, the merchandise is kept central to the “stage”, and users are even provided with
many alternative views of their custom items, all with full-screen viewing.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 12
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 13
Principle No. 5: Make it personal and empowering
User-provided content allows for great digital experiences that adapt to the personality and profile of the user.
The more relevant the content displayed, the more engaged the user is.
In a newly published January 2009 Forrester Research report, Web Content Management Investment Continues
Despite The Challenging Economic Climate, almost two-thirds of respondents, expressed interest in
personalization. Sixty-four percent of respondents answered that their organizations use or plan to use
personalization — tailoring content to specific users or groups — to support their customer experience plans.
Explicit personalization — which is tied to authenticated users and which many consider easier to deploy —
garnered the interest of 77% of respondents. Also, 50% expressed interest in microsites tied to search pages, 43%
in implicit personalization tied to site user behavior, and 43% in user recommendations.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 14
Great examples of personalization include photo services where shoppers can upload their personal photos and
design their own greeting cards, calendars, photo books and more. Sites are also beginning to offer sophisticated
personalization that can contour accurately to reflect personalized names and messages on to any item, such as
Williams-Sonoma’s personalized gifts which allow users to preview their own monogrammed or engraved
By simply emailing out personalized items with the recipient’s name inscribed on one of its holiday ornaments,
Lenox saw an increase in click through and overall revenues.
Customer Experience: What’s Best, What’s Next 15
Principle No. 6: Shopping is becoming social. Hasn’t it always been?
Not only empowering shoppers but also providing tools that empower their community (groups, friends and
peers) is truly a significant online shopping shift. User reviews are just the start of how social shopping can drive
the ideal eCommerce experience. Community collaboration – sharing and rating of user created merchandise
and suggestions to full collaborative shopping – will take what was once an individual, personal and private
experience on the web to a completely shared experience similar to the public in-store shopping experience.
Already a few great examples of sites allowing the community to create or contribute the content exist.
Freemans Grattan Holdings’ Oli.co.uk allows users to be their own merchants and create their own outfits and
sets, then share them with their friends. Anywhere on the site, shoppers can add items to their Look Books, drag
and drop them to create outfits, then share them with friends.
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