September 23rd, 2007 | 6 MIN READ

Ecommerce Trends & Customer Experience - 2007

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

In case you "missed" it (or even if you caught it), this is a recap of Chancellor’s Professor of Marketing and Co-Director of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the University of California, Riverside Donna Hoffman's keynote speech titled “The Evolution of Customer Experience: 10 Trends You Can’t Afford to Miss.” Here's the rundown of what Hoffman believes will drive the move from Web 2.0 to (you knew it was coming) Web 3.0.

Most folks still don't really know what people mean by Web 2.0, let alone Web 1.0 or 3.0. If you Google these terms, you'll get a variety of opinions. Hoffman presented a simple definition of Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 in terms of how users interact with the available Web technologies:

  • Web 1.0 refers to the Web as data, text and images. Users can read and search.
  • Web 2.0 ushered in sharing and participation (forums, blogs and so on). Users can interact and submit their own content to cyberspace.
  • Web 3.0 is a move towards a "semantic Web." A concept that the Web can understand itself and user intent through artificial intelligence and perhaps human powered search.

Alright, jargon out of the way, why should etailers care about Web 3.0 ecommerce trends?

Because as the Internet evolves, customers have increasing ability to create and control the marketing messages they digest. They are not going to absorb marketing messages passively as they have done in the past. The nature of the Web as we know it today gives users this power, and here's why:

What makes the Web special?

1. It's Networked. The Web offers a host of "social marketplaces" where transactions can occur online, such as social networking sites with premium account options, embeddable e-stores (like the Amazon A-store for affiliates), community ratings, online auction sites (eBay et. al.), classifieds (Craigslist) and social shopping sites (like Polyvore). It even gives way to "virtual consumption" in communities like SecondLife and Facebook.

2. It's Digital. Hoffman used the acronym "ABBA" for "atoms to bits, and back to atoms." She gave an example that a real human being can create a 3D virtual character in an online virtual world, and then turn that model back into something tangible in the offline world (like the 3D bobbleheads you can have made of yourself at the Mandalay Bay).

3. It's Interactive. This is pretty self-explanatory, but a great example given was of Google's MyMaps, where Google's local business listings are enhanced by user reviews and photos and can be personalized to make the service a lot more interesting. Another example is the use of "videopinions" where customers create and control their own product messages that can influence others and are easily shared.

4. It's Measurable. Through social media optimization (placing links to RSS feeds, Flickr feeds, social bookmarking sites etc. on your site to make it easy and quick for your visitors to subscribe, promote or contribute), you can improve your organic rankings and cast a wider net of exposure to draw in traffic from diverse places. You can measure this through your referral stats, Feedburner subscriptions or popularity in social bookmarking sites. You can "open up your brand" by making it easy to link to your content, tag your content and share in social networks, as long as you stay away from spammy tactics (like fake Digg accounts, contrived blog and forum posts and mass self-submission of content to social media sites).

5. There's Limitless Content. Billions of pages makes it both easier AND more difficult to find information. Add to this that people generally are bad at searching. They will use overly generic keywords, they don't scroll past the first few links or venture past the first page, they don't use brand or product names in pre-purchase search and they get frustrated easily and give up. And we as marketers don't understand enough about how people search. Sites like Mahalo, Rollyo, Squidoo and Yahoo Shoposphere provide some form of human recommended search / information resources. These are services anyone can join and begin to provide their own expert advice for others.

6. It's Addressable. This means "do it for me." Search engines scour gazillions of pages in an instant to help users find what they are looking for fast. Google's Personalized Search intends to further enhance these benefits, but Hoffman brought up a good point that personalized results skewed towards websites that exist in a user's search history do not necessarily make for better results. Personalized search can limit results, and eliminates that serendipitous element of surprise -- it makes it less likely you'll discover a new and cool site. (Perhaps social shopping sites that allow you to explore other users' favorite shops and items will fill this emerging gap?)

7. It Offers Control. The "I'll do it myself" appeal of personalization tools will become increasingly important. We should expect to see personalization of the Web move beyond choosing a theme for you MSN portal or MySpace page toward actually customizing the layout of ecommerce stores through widgets. An example was given how users can "Froogle-ize" Amazon, by using Amazon for it's product ratings and reviews information and product suggestions, and heading over to Froogle to find the cheapest price.

8. It's Vulnerable. Hoffman moved quickly through this point but mentioned click fraud and "brand jacking." For more information I turned to Google and found these downloads: "Brand Jacking and How to Avoid It" and MarkMonitor's "Brand Jacking Report."

9. It Supports Digital Convergence. You can use your Web-enabled computer to download music and more to cellphones and mp3 players, and vice versa. Mobile commerce is here to stay.

10. It's Augmentable. iTunes augments the iPod. User generated reviews augments the product page. Google street view augments online maps. Building upon the digital convergence idea, virtual mirrors allow users to virtually try on clothing and solicit opinions from friends through text messaging or email.

So what does this all boil down to for etailers? First of all, it's important to be aware that the Web has evolved past providing content for people to consume, and consumers now control their experiences in a variety of ways listed above. Some of these ecommerce trends are going to play a huge part in how your marketing messages are perceived and delivered, how your products are found and purchased and how you participate with consumers in shaping your branding and enhancing customer experience.

Secondly, each online retailer will need to respond to these trends -- pay attention to them and develop a strategy today, or your competitors will leave you behind. Do you leverage the existing technology for customer reviews? Is your site (appropriately) optimized for social media sharing? Are you measuring the results of your efforts? Do you provide a personalized, customized experience for users? Can you be found from a mobile device, or can you support mobile payment options? Are you protecting your brand from hijackers?

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what etailers can do to enhance customer experience in light of the current trends.

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