How do websites go about collecting information about what their users are interested in buying? One is asked to answer a number of carefully drafted questions. Answers to these questions are used by web sites to determine how best to customize your shopping experience. This form of information gathering is called explicit profiling. The advantage of this approach is that the user is forthcoming with the information. No guesses required. The disadvantage is that in this day and age, people are over-cautious about the information they provide to online vendors. Often enough, responses to some of the questions may be false.
Explicit Profiling and the Anonymous User
If web sites personalize using only the explicit profile, then personalization might not be effective and, infinitely worse, might backfire on them and they might start losing users. Explicit profiles are created only for users willing to register with the web site. This effectively rules out personalized shopping experience for users not registered with the site (known as Anonymous users). The pitfall to this is that there is a major disparity between the experience of a registered user and an anonymous user. Anonymous users should be treated as prospective registrants. A good shopping experience for anonymous users might lure them to register with the site. An explicit profile will then be created for them.
Another approach to determine user interest is capturing click-stream data as the user navigates through the site. Click-stream is information on what pages a user viewed, what searches were performed and which links were clicked. This information can be captured for both anonymous and registered users. In the case of anonymous users, the click-stream can be used to perform some amount of personalization. In the case of registered users, click-stream data can be used to fine-tune the user’s interests. Click-stream data is an implicit way of capturing user information.
The Power of Two
In the context of determining user interests, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They go hand-in-hand and complement each other. When used effectively these prove to be potent weapons. In explicit profile creation, the online registration form is not just any odd form to capture information. The questions presented to the user should be limited enough in order to minimize the time required to complete the registration process while being succinct enough to gather as much information as possible. A lot of planning is required in drafting an effective registration form. In the implicit click-stream approach, within a few minutes of turning on click-stream data capture, the amount of data captured will be huge. Careful analysis of terabytes of data is required to glean knowledge from the captured data. Poor analysis of click-stream almost always leads to poor personalization.
We know how Rich Internet Applications (RIA) can influence an ecommerce website. Apart from those advantages, RIAs have some disadvantages also. In this post we will see some of the common disadvantages of RIAs.
RIAs are fast in display
RIAs are sometimes too fast while displaying content, with the result that the customer might not notice what you want them to see. Because of technological advances, the quickness of the action would sometime mask the fact that an action has already occurred. For e.g. when a customer adds an item to their cart, the page sometimes may not reload. But the cart icon on the top right hand corner would indicate that the number of items added to the cart has increased. Now a savvy shopper might notice the change in the cart, but a novice user might wonder what has happened. Marketers should take care to display information which notifies a customer that a change has happened to their cart.
New functionalities require new information
New functionalities using RIAs would have multiple advantages. But how many users would figure out how to use them and for what? If users are not familiar with these features, then they would not easily be inclined to click and investigate. It is because of this that marketers should not allow their retail sites to lose certain conventions and standards set for global navigation. For example, if an icon looks like a slider, then users would expect it to behave like a typical slider. Similarly, RIA widgets like buttons, checkboxes, sliders which initiate action should be conventional in interaction.
Balancing HTML and RIA
A balance between HTML and RIA has to be maintained. An ecommerce site need not have plain text in RIA, as it’s more sensible to have that in HTML – load factor and editing process is simpler. This simplicity in execution would go a long way in maintaining usability and performance without that extra pinch on resources.
The following lists some recommendations for best practices. Please note that the list is by no means exhaustive and specific to any e-commerce installation. It rather provides a general guideline that will be useful in making specific and detail guideline for a particular e-commerce system.
• Make system as intuitive as possible for end users to use and navigate
• Use enhanced two dimensional or possibly three dimensional views with different perspectives for displaying items by which user will have feeling of looking items from different angles
• The page format, positioning of common fields in page should be standard across pages; for example, put common navigation fields and buttons like Back to home page, help, contact us, search etc. in the same position on pages
• The pages navigation should be friendly – make sure user has to make less horizontal navigation and the system displays the pathway and guides user in navigation process
• Create and/ or use various patterns that people can easily remember
• Give detail description to users about products or services and try to make sure user feels that nothing that he or she would need to know has been hidden
• User should have more freedom in terms of what and how he or she can and can’t do with contents with less restriction, less rigidity of flow, and less mandatory requirements
• Provide convenience to user – put user entered data in sessions so that he or she doesn’t have to type in the same information repeatedly in the same session; make user enter as less data as possible and try to capture more data implicitly as user makes actions or selections in navigation or purchase process
• Put content in organized form – hierarchically, geographically, etc.
• Build and portray strong sense of system security and build confidence in users that his or her private data will not be compromised
• The integration between various functional domains and system domains should look as seamless as possible to user
• Make the system expressive; highlight required fields; tell user up-front if there are any issues; display link to security and privacy policies
• Make the system flexible in ordering process, registration, etc. so that user can change the way he or she can mix and match, update the information easily, etc.
• Provide real powerful and friendly search facility with refine search feature
• Be liberal in showing catalogs; user should be able to see catalogs without needing to input much information
• Always get confirmation from user, inform him or her, and communicate (via email) to user about purchase
• People like to see something in scale or grade. So, show comparison between products
• Show in-stock and out-of-stock items very clearly
• Show the price breakdown clearly
• Allow user to change order at any reasonable point in time
• Ask minimum questions to user while registering. Implicitly capture more information on the basis of user’s actions and selections
• Defer asking many questions up-front and ask the questions as and when required; shipping and billing address, for example, may be asked only when user wants to make purchase
• Use the same information as much as possible. If the shipping address and billing address are the same, do not ask user enter the same address twice. Ask the user if the two are same and if the user confirms that, get the system manage populating data from one to another automatically.
• Explain benefits of registration like personalized web experience, access to user’s order history, more expedited future checkouts, etc.
• As much as possible, present multiple choice-type questions for getting user’s answers
• Allow user to easily un-register and re-register at any reasonable point in time
• Provide ample opportunities for user to sign-in but allow him or her to work anonymously
RIA’s are taking a stronghold in the world of Web 2.0. Through technologies like Ajax and Flash, RIAs overcome traditional page-based Web browser constraints to deliver more interactive and responsive Web functionality. RIAs beget rich user experiences when they help users:
Sort large data sets
Enables users to dynamically sort through thousands of information using interactive tools, whereby they can narrow the list by criteria that are most important to them – a task that would take countless attempts if done via traditional forms, which don’t provide insight into how the input parameters affect the results.
Control multi-step process
One of the biggest limitations of page-based HTML functionality is that multi-step processes require linear task flows. But, by replacing traditional HTML forms with a Flash application, users get all of the information and functionality that is required in one screen. Users can select multiple options in any order – all happening without a single-page reload.
Rather than forcing users to download a separate image for each different view, an in-page Flash application gives visitors a 360-degree view of products that they can easily pivot with left and right arrow controls. When they click on a color swatch underneath the product, the image immediately updates with the chosen color without loading an entirely new page. If users want a closer look at the details, they just need to mouse over the image to see a magnified version that temporarily replaces the product description.
Get information that’s hidden or out of view
Traditional online mapping sites require full page refreshes to re-center a map. But with RIAs retailers can present their location maps of their outlets, stores inside layout, whereby users can pore over large expanses of land by dragging the image across the screen as one would slide a map across a table. Clicking on any link within the layout displays the additional information about the section of the store – like square footage, how many products displayed, brand names – in the context of the retailer’s store.
Use familiar controls and features
Many retail sites today offer customers the flexibility of sorting their carts, managing items and previewing them dynamically. RIAs provide features like dynamic sorting of user requested data, drag-and-drop and pane resizing.
Once the shopper has added all their items to purchase it is not necessary to have them confirm the same during the subsequent phases. So how do you ensure that all the items in the cart will not be abandoned? Though there are no standard practices that guarantee success, it usually begins with a trial and run process, along with the assistance of analytics to steer you in the right direction. Some points to consider are:
Build Trust with Third Party
Once in the checkout page, you should reassure the shopper with a globally known third party security firm, for example ScanAlert or Verisign. This increases stability and shows that your brand is associated with quality and recommended guarantees. Also information banners like ‘satisfaction guaranteed or your money back’ build a trusting relationship with your existing customers. Read more
Despite growing fears of recession hitting the United States, online spending in US has reached $37.5 billion in Q2, 2011. That’s a 14% increase compared to last year, according to audience measurement and tracking firm – comScore. Read more
An appropriate combination of both Web services technology and the SOA approach addresses many of the issues of building an SOA based application integration environment. That is not to say that Web services and SOA are intrinsically linked, because they can be implemented separately. Read more