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Jun 19, 2008 | 8 minute read

Webinar Recap: Ecommerce Innovations

written by Linda Bustos

This month's webinar with Jason Billingsley covered various areas packed with examples from real online retailers. You can catch the ecommerce innovation webinar on-demand. Or, you can flip through some of the examples, see the live sites and catch up on related blog posts you may have missed.

Purpose of this Webinar

Innovations are not necessarily "sexy" -- but they don't have to be. This webinar is really to get you
thinking about the possibilities, whether you're a small player or a multi-million dollar e-tailer. Innovation may exist in another segment / industry that can be applied to your business. And it doesn't have to be a visual innovation - processes like customer service, fulfillment and order management can also have a profitable impact.


Martin + Osa Shop-By-Outfit

  • Great to see items in context
  • Cross-selling entire outfits
  • Works for women who like to see how it looks "on"
  • Works for men who want to "get in and get out" and not waste time on browsing and outfit building
  • Helps the fashionably clueless
  • Blog post: Martin + Osa Launches Shop-By-Outfit + Video

Knicker Picker

  • See items "in context" (on humans)
  • Select size of model
  • See how sports product moves when the model jogs, show how supportive the item is - selling based on the function of a product Fit Finder

  • See what different cuts of pants look like on

Vitaman Global

  • Video-valet Nikki gives verbal affirmations when you add product to cart
  • Audible cross-selling, suggesting products that go with what you added to cart
  • Like a real physical store - kind of...
  • Blog post: Is Flattery a Viable Selling Strategy?

American Eagle

  • Now offline, but we blogged it: Video Valets: An Ecommerce Trend?
  • Net-lebrity iJustine tells girls and boys what's cool for spring break, describing and "romancing" the products as you roll over them Video Reviews

  • Very helpful for certain products
  • Problem: Used by viewers, but not contributed much by customers

  • Popular video podcast that doesn't require big budget
  • Gary Vaynerchuk is a HUGE personality
  • Such helpful content, it's very linkable, has active Facebook community, too
  • SEO smarts - each link to Gary's video pages pass Page Rank to product pages, linked to from the video pages
  • Blog post: Anatomy of a Great Video Podcast

Customer Service Return-O-Meter


Why Zappos' Customer Service is Innovative:

1. "The offer" get the right people on the bus
2. Prominent toll-free number
3. 24x7 call-center
4. Free shipping (both ways)
5. Free returns
6. Free (unexpected) upgraded shipping - shoes come faster than promised
7. No scripts, no call times
8. Find out of stock items at competing sites
9. Transparency - 350+ people on Twitter
10. CSRs have freedom to have person-to-person relationship. The famous example of Zaz Lamarr shares how a Zappos CSR sent flowers of sympathy on her own dime to a woman who lost her mom to cancer

Real World Guided Selling

Davids Bridal Dress Your Wedding

  • Interactive application to visualize your wedding photos - very appropriate for product

Oneida Virtual Table

  • Virtual table setting - choose table finish, dish and cutlery style

Crutchfield TV Fit Finder

  • Look up your TV to find compatible furniture, can work for any product that is sold for use with another product (car stereo, ink / toner etc)

  • Show physical arrangements of products, like Lionel Ritchie's living room, or rooms that users have created
  • Choose your budget, and get product recommendations most appropriate for your budget
  • Slider narrows matches based on acceptable price range
  • Visual product recommendations powered by Imagini technology, click on images that stand out to you and see similar products based on your psychological profile

Land's End

  • Has filtered navigation for bathing suits to narrow products by "Anxiety Zone," - if you have short find suits that elongate the leg, etc.

Multi-Store Retailing

  • Palm has multiple geographic domains (TLD like .com, .ca etc) which is great for international SEO
  • Avoid country-selector splash pages! Using IP redirect and forward to country specific site is better
  • Jason's interview with Justin Skogen of DigitalElement on geographic IP sniffing
  • has hundreds of niche stores. SEO benefits: websites more apt to link to them, top level domain relevance
  • Jason's interview with Roy Rubin of Magento about multi-store retailing

Steep and Cheap

  •'s clearinghouse for deep discounted products, along with sell one product per day until it's sold out
  • Customer incentive to come back every day. If there's nothing of interest, you can click through to clearance section
  • Creates a sense of urgency since product could sell out today

  • Shopatron is a service that eases the manufacturer - channel conflict, explained in Jason's interview with Shopatron's CEO Ed Stevens
  • Shopper makes a purchase, based on geographic location Shopatron assigns an order to nearest retail partner OR they can do in-store pickup

User Interface Design

Action Envelope

  • Jason's favorite site, here's one reason why: mouseover a style and see deeper into site without clicking off the page
  • SEO benefit if implemented correctly

  • Hover over a product to view more colors - you're missing out if you're hiding colors!

  • Endless' image zoom doesn't cover price or add to cart buttons - great design

  • Borders' "Magic shelf" shows book titles on a shelf that you can scroll left, right, up and down
  • Uses a degree of personalization if you sign in - just a different way to shop visually more akin to a real bookstore
  • Hover over items to see detail without leaving page you're on

Abercrombie and Fitch

  • View details on "Complete the Look" cross-sells without leaving product page with AJAX hover


  • OfficeMax' alphabetical menu
  •'s product carousel (scroll horizontally left and right)
  •'s price slider and color / size / width filters


  • Martin + Osa "layer your own look"

Social Shopping

Shoptogether by DecisionStep

  • Using Polyvore, customers can build outfits, save the look and start sharing with the community

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Store Customer Q&A

Customer Loyalty

  • Threadless uses a "crowdsourcing" business model, where customers suggest the products. You may not do this for every product but can think of which areas of your business to apply this to
  • Amazon's Subscribe & Save program (blog post)
  • Amazon's Gold Box Deals, products on sale for set amount of time until gone or time's up. Subscribe to daily emails, add widget to your start page, by RSS, mobile via Twitter


1. Break it - Rethink old processes, like navigation, instead of following the leader. Test and try new things
2. Shoestring it - Don't try to compete with multi-million site's features (rich media etc) - think of Wine Library TV - the main cost is time. Or, leverage other 2.0 tools already made
3. Processes Count - You don't need to modify visual things, you can do customer service innovations like Zappos, innovative policies or value propositions
4. Look to the real world - Helicopter seeds inspired the real helicopter. Think of how to replicate real-store experiences
5. Prove it, sell it - If you need to prove it to your bosses, just get your hands dirty in an innovation on your own (like a side project), then you can show some results which can be rolled out on the main site.

Question Period Notes

(These are notes, not a transcript)

About rich user interfaces - does single screen checkout make sense?

Jason talked to a retailer (Intuit?) that tested 95% regular vs. 5% one-page and found single didn't convert as well. Intuit hasn't moved fully to single screen but continues to test the process. Action Envelope is a good example of a one-page checkout.

Allurent and Liquid Pixels are service providers for RIA (rich interface applications), check out Jason's Internet Retailer interviews with Allurent and Liquid Pixels.

Bernadine Wu from Fit For Commerce believes some innovations actually take a step back. You don't need to use the newest trends you may be to use dynamic style sheet, which could have bigger impact on conversions than crazy, dynamic recommendation engines, for example.

Do RIA's improve conversions? Testing tools for rich interfaces?

You could take traffic and filter through router to split test
Omniture Offermatica may have something relevant
A/B split test with Google Website Optimizer
Avinash Kaushik has a podcast on measuring rich media

Attendee comment:Woot is a Steep-and-Cheap style site which uses humor, not blah boring copy. Good point that people want to engage with people.

Innovative B2B sites?

Office Max navigation - whether that's effective innovation, not sure.
B2B and B2C not that different these days, B2B may want to leverage preferred contracts or supplier lists or improve processes like order management.

Color innovation - do colors have impact?

It has a lot to do with brand, if you're a multi-channel retailer you want some consistency. Testing is recommended. One thing to keep in mind, don't make call to action button the same color as everything else.

International companies, how do you know when to stop or go?

Things that work in Asia/Europe might not work in North America, and vice-versa. Without geographical market knowledge, you're taking a risk. Some retailers will use richer color pallettes for Asian stores than US/Canada (oranges vs. blues). Also, countries used to higher broadband speeds may expect your site to work much faster than other countries tolerate - so don't add something that will slow down your site just to be innovative.