Enriching Commerce

Companies are taking an interactive tack on Web page design.

Web page design has come a long way since the days of Netscape 3.0. But while the Web may look better, few would say it has gotten fundamentally better at displaying information, facilitating customer needs or garnering a strong return on investment.

Some design and software companies are taking what may seem to be a common-sense strategy—but not often put into action—and designing sites based on how customers interact with them.

Some of these companies are responding to the "X Internet," a strategy hatched in 2000 by Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., that predicts users will exchange executable programs over the Internet rather than static Web pages. For instance, Curl Corp., also of Cambridge, is shipping its Client/Web platform, consisting of a run-time environment and integrated development environment that creates interactive, real-time Web applications.

Another vendor, San Francisco-based Versalent Inc., late last month shipped Versalent Objects 2.0, which enables developers to build browser applications that look, feel and function like desktop software. Unlike Curl, Versalents solution does not require a plug-in.

A third provider, Molecular Inc., is adopting the plug-in approach, but taking a more standards-based route with Macromedia Inc.s Flash technology, and is combining X Internet strategy with customer behavioral analysis and methodologies.

Molecular is operating from an assumption that is not new—most e-shoppers leave a site without buying. The companys analysis shows that potential customers drop off at each stage of the buying process—as many as 93 percent before finding a product—with a small percentage (2.24) left at the end spending any money.

The Watertown, Mass., developer has determined that rich clients can help keep potential customers on a site longer, increasing the chances of converting them into buyers. For instance, an 11 percent decrease in first-stage dropoffs, to 82.5 percent, can translate to as much as a 150 percent increase in final purchases, officials said.

The secret to lowering the drop-out rate: Keep page views to a minimum. With Flash technology, Molecular creates a single interface that contains all custom product, shopping basket and shipping information in one view and dynamically walks the customer through the shopping steps. Such a strategy is particularly useful, officials said, for sites that offer custom products, such as The Yankee Candle Company Inc.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...