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.
Dennis Shockro, vice president of IS for Yankee Candle, of South Deerfield, Mass., said Moleculars solution has been a boon to its custom candle site, seeing a 25 percent increase in the average order since last fall.
“Some things customers used to see was a candle and generic label,” said Shockro. “Today you can see it, you can add a ribbon, a flower, what we call tooling, different modifications to each product we sell, and that provides real nice upsell capability.”
Before the new solution was installed, upward of 90 percent of custom orders required some help from customer service representatives. Now that number has dropped “dramatically,” Shockro said, to about 40 percent.
Other solutions never got around the problem of multiple pages interfering with the shopping process, Shockro said. “Pick a color, load a new page; create a label, go to a new page; put a ribbon on it, new page; change something, new page,” he said. “Now, with a slight bit of latency, you see the words typed right on the screen as you type them and make changes.”
Some design companies do not embrace X Internet per se but still embrace the use of technologies such as Flash to drive “customer-centric design,” said Jennifer DeVoe, principal of White Horse, a Portland, Ore., strategy and design company that has done online work for AT&T Wireless, GlaxoSmithKline and Cisco Systems Inc.
“We dont really see X Internet as a rapid paradigm shift, nor do we see this generating the sort of upheaval that Forrester seems to suggest,” said DeVoe. “It is also important to not discount the heavy client technologies being used today. Technologies like Flash can give rich client experiences. … It is far more likely to see these types of technologies become the front-end interfaces to Web sites and applications than the concept of executables, at least in the five-year horizon.”
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