Anyone would think video has a chequered past. Folklore would have you believe the medium killed the radio star back in the early 1980′s. But radio star murder apart, video has been on-the-up for over 30 years.
And today, 6 short years since the YouTube domain was first registered, the daughter of video – online video – is simply blossoming. Some would even say exploding. So I propose that today, video saves the eCommerce stars, giving leading and innovative merchants a renewed basis for differentiation and online growth.
Here’s 9 areas to watch (and perhaps react to) in relation to front-end eCommerce website development initiatives during 2011. It is by no means exhaustive, but reflects a few of the overriding trends and movements that will impact front-end development.
We’ve deliberately steered away from merely ‘design’ specific trends. For those you could go here, it’s a pretty good list with a little overlap on ours. For digital marketing trends look no further than Ashley Friedlein’s list on eConsultancy.com, and for the mega-trends out there take a look at Marian Salzman’s Euro RSC Worldwide PR report and her “11 Trends for 2011″.
So here it is: 9 areas to watch at the front-end of eCommerce this year
“f-commerce” becomes a verb Beyond mere fan pages and ‘like’ buttons, merchants will re-focus on Facebook and look to develop eCommerce websites completely within Facebook. With more than 500 million active users (50% of active users logging onto Facebook in any given day, the average user having 130 friends and people spending over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, more here) the potential ROI appears to be huge. And yet developing an eCommerce solution inside Facebook is not without its potential drawbacks. In this post, Michael Hoffman remarks (in the comments) that firstly, “Facebook provides no service level agreements. Therefore, if Facebook is down, you are down. If your app is performing poorly, there is no one you can call directly. All applications are treated equally.” Michael’s second point is equally poignant…. so let’s think about Facebook security for a moment…. it’s a fact that Facebook profiles are sometimes hacked so is there a knock-on issue in this regard towards f-commerce? And what about the .api, the PCI compliance, the optimisation of Facebook eCommerce stores for mobile devices, and payment….wow, the list goes on (and that’s not even counting the growing WhiteWalling trend as recently discussed by Drew Benvie). What is certain is that those merchants that get to grips with any potential issues first, will also see the upside first; and already pioneers like JC Penney are putting their best foot forward already as are ASOS in Europe (n.b. ASOS link requires Retail Week subscription). On the flip side, on the merchant eCommerce websites itself, there is little doubt that exposing a shoppers social graph will unearth recommendations and reviews that an algorithm simply would not. I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t be delighted to see what their social graph (or certainly a selection of their social graph) has been buying and saying about particular products and services.
The Mobile Web Explosion If last year was the year that mobile commerce finally arrived (actually it was the year before last imho), expect to hear the herd stampeding this year. Mobile internet use is going to keep rising, and along with it, so will the number of mobile versions of existing sites needing to be developed or thought through. Think about access by phones, tablets, even eReaders plus a host of other devices – and think about it strategically would be our opinion. Apps no doubt will continue to be developed, but they’ll find their place within retail strategy (and it will probably be less important than your average app developer will tell you today) because really it’s the mobile web that will explode. In the short term, payment is going to be a key area to nail down in transactional eCommerce terms and those that thought about payment strategically in the first place should have little problem exploiting investments already made on their conventional eCommerce sites (which is what we were able to do for Halfords and ICI/Dulux). And remember, where there’s payment there is also security to worry about and ‘NFC’ (near field communications) and ‘payment wallets’ and ‘mobile vouchers’ will muddy the confusing water for many.
Yay. Internet Explorer 9 We can all look forward to the release of IE9 (rumoured to be Q1), and along with it better support for CSS3 and HTML5. It’s so easy optimising complex eCommerce sites for the myriad of browser types and versions that another big release won’t make much difference will it? Hmmmm (See point #9).
Ahem. Yay. Firefox 4 I rest my case. It too, is expected, to be released, this year. The punctuation just doesn’t do this whole cross browser compatibility nightmare justice, but alas, our perspective on all this is covered in point #9.
Web Standards become the standard. All hail CSS3 and HTML5 On the upside, with IE9 joining the list of browsers supporting CSS3 and HTML5, expect to see these standards even more widely used. Interpretation aside, adhering to web standards in eCommerce is very important for many reasons (which we won’t go into detail about here) but two aspects that are very relevant are improved ‘Search’ and ‘Accessibility’. Then again, add ‘Page weight’, ‘Ease of Maintenance’ and ‘Extensibility’ and benefits relating to the support for access by multiple devises – and everyone in eCommerce should get the message. Maybe grabbing more headlines during the year will be CSS3, mainly because it’s more designer-y (and designers write about this stuff a lot) but to be fair eCommerce site experience WILL become richer, deeper, with a greater sense of dimension than previously; in part (at least) due to CSS3. Whilst ‘text & box shadows’, ’rounded’ corners, ‘gradients’, ‘animations’ & ‘transitions’, a wider variety of fonts and multiple background images will get lots of design-led attention, on an eCommerce site all new design possibilities will need to be thoroughly A/B and multi-variate tested anyway (the results are always surprising) so lets not get too carried away for designs-sake without testing.
Importantly, whilst HTML5 isn’t going to replace flash altogether, it will at least put it back where it reigns. So for now and the foreseable future, HTML5 and Flash will simply co-exist. Proof of that can be seen with one of our partner’s in eCommerce 10CMS, who is helping our retail clients leverage flash components on eCommerce sites in the area of interactive merchandising (with non flash alternatives also served) with stunning conversion results. Their approach in the future is that designers/merchandisers/whoever will be able to serve content in basic html, flash or HTML5. Choices. Great. So to say Flash will disappear in eCommerce because of HTML5 is pretty nonsense, but getting the balance right isn’t.
Landing Page optimisation & cross channel optimisation Online marketing vs. offline marketing vs. traditional marketing vs. digital marketing. Phew. For many (usually vendors) it’s still a noisy battleground, but for some merchants who’ve moved away from ‘which’ tactic to pick, to establishing a genuine blend of activities, there’s big benefits to be had from measured, optimised and fully integrated activities. A great example of where this is going to come home to roost before our very eyes in eCommerce circles during 2011 is the optimisation of (digital) landing pages from (offline) Quick Response (QR) codes on packaging, shelf labels and (whisper it) traditional direct mail. By encouraging bar code or QR code scanning a customer can be taken to an optimised page where they can read rich contextual product information, or in turn be encouraged (post purchase perhaps) to share product comments using audio, photos or video. The real skill is of course integrating everything, everywhere – and those merchants that can get nearer to integrated marcoms across all customer touchpoints will benefit most. So whilst we expect to see greater use of QR codes on products and adverts to send customers to (many more) product and offer landing pages in the first instance (it was just an example) – the real battle ground is going to be integrating cross channel activities and having a genuine handle on customer behaviour via cross-channel analytics.
Tighter Social Network Integration Whilst we have already discussed Facebook in a little detail, overall there will be a surge toward tapping into established 3rd party social networks. Clearly links (to-and-from) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blippy, Foursquare, Amazon, LinkedIn, Go Try It On, Shopkick and Group On and the like WILL have their merits (albeit sometimes merely volume based) but really that’s only half the social network story. Whilst many major online shops have now realised that it is actually pretty difficult to establish their own social networks (e.g. HMV’s www.getcloser.com failed last year) many will persist; and for those that do so the rewards may well be significant. Those that maintain their own social functionality (perhaps combined with simple hooks into established social networks as well) will tightly embed and integrate social networking directly into their main eCommerce sites using services like Pluck (which we have implemented before) or KickApps. ASOS is one retailer who is a long way down this road already within the eCommerce industry with its ASOS Life portal that combines blogs, forums, ideas as well as an online market place for clothing. But it’s not just fashion retailers getting in on the act – Sainsbury’s and ASDA have significant presence already too.
Location Location Location First aired in May 2001, Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer are going from strength to strength on their hit show….oh hang on….From Gowalla to FourSquare, to ‘check-in’s’, ‘augmented reality’ and ‘mobile vouchers’ – location based offerings are rapidly becoming the eCommerce solution de-rigour. But beyond the hype (and there’s been a lot) and the fact that 2011 might not even be the year for mainstream adoption, in eCommerce circles ‘location’ services will rapidly become a pretty important component of a genuinely joined up multi channel retail strategy. With the potential to optimise retail operations in areas such as Supply Chain & Logistics, Merchandising and Store Operations, “location location location” takes on an altogether more complex, and potentially rewarding, topic for eCommerce executives in 2011. And with smart phones likely to become practically de-facto during the next few years, delivering mobile solutions that leverage both ‘location’ and ‘proximity’ to deliver a better customer experience, are simply a must. We can certainly see ‘check-in’ promotions happening more often already in the US (e.g. the first 500 checkins instore receiving a free prize or a free voucher) but actually campaigns that focus on the ‘volume’ of followers will be less important than those that centre on the number of ‘influential’ customers a brand has; and as the commercial value of ‘influence’ and ‘trust’ in the social web begins to manifest, merchants will not only need to time their run toward the social web correctly, but also get their aligment spot on. Look out for Facebook ‘Deals’ in the near future in the UK, and ‘local’ being the location battleground (offers around the corner from home/work, or where you are right now), and the continued rise of Google Places. And they’ll be a return of older names in the mix like ‘Yell’ who understand locality (and advertising and SEO) pretty damn well.
The end of the browser compatibility war This year the focus on browsers will shift from negativity to positivity – and looking ‘forwards’ not ‘backwards’. The web has changed, and it is no longer a one-size-fits-all arena and nothing like an eCommerce site brings that into sharp focus. Complex, dynamic websites are going to look different on an iPad to an Android phone to a site viewed on IE8 etc etc. Supporting different browsers simply does not mean that every eyeball should see the exact same thing. And if anyone in eCommerce front end design has enough time and money to spend on IE6 vs. better desktop browsers and the host of mobile browsers then I’d be frankly pretty surprised. Here’s the rub. If it looks different in different browsers its not a bug. And lets take it one step further: Browser capabilities are to do with the browser maker – not the designer. It really is time to look forward not backward on browser compatibility.
What’s missing from our list? Please make some suggestions in the comments section.