E-Tailers Avoiding Advanced Web Technologies

Less than 20 percent of online retailers deploy well-accepted and widely supported Web technologies such as Java, Flash, or chat functions to enhance the online shopping experience and help close sales, according to a report by Jupiter Communications Inc.

Jupiter’s report advises that online retailers abandon conservative Web site development practices and optimize their interactive presence in order to match the technical capabilities of most online consumers, which can now adequately support a rich interface.

As Internet audiences upgrade hardware, add plug-ins, and upgrade to faster Internet connections, the addressable consumer technology environment becomes more diverse. At the same time, consumers expect a richer online shopping experience because of the exposure they receive through new interfaces on most sites, according to Jupiter. Merchants operating in complex online product categories — auto, real estate, home furnishings and housewares, PCs and peripheral devices, and apparel — now have the opportunity to integrate advanced applications that can satisfy the needs and address the problems of more experienced online shoppers.

“Many retailers have designed their sites for the lowest common denominator, which is shortsighted, particularly for vendors of high-consideration goods,” said Lydia Loizides, an analyst with Jupiter. “This practice ensures support for technology laggards, but retailers must also meet the rising expectations of experienced online shoppers. Competitive pressure will make support for advanced technologies a must-have for sites operating in the complex product market. Retailers will have to offer more to their customers than just basic textual representation, search, and price comparison.”

A Jupiter survey of online merchants found that 60 percent cited customer feedback as a primary factor in their decision to add advanced technologies to the user interface. A Jupiter Consumer Survey of online shoppers found that more than 50 percent of respondents indicated they would use the technology if it were available. Specifically, 56 percent said they would use items such as virtual dressing rooms, and 51 percent said they would use zoom-and-spin technology if available.

Numerous other surveys, however, have found that consumers shop online for convenience, and the improvements they want to see are in lower shipping costs, better prices, and security guarantees, rather than more bells and whistles. Technology that may run slowly, or not at all, can be detrimental to the shopping experience for many consumers. As the demographics of the Web shift, and online shoppers become older and from lower-income households, it is possible that newer Web technologies could cause more harm than good, distracting users from the actual buying process.

A survey by Forrester Research found that as more users switch to broadband Internet connections, consumers may find some multimedia content to be gratuitous rather than useful, and may seek out sites that offer functionality without the distraction.

According to Loizides, merchants must proactively deploy technologies that enhance the process of searching for and evaluating products and services online, or risk losing customers to those that offer a richer online experience. Jupiter claims that PCs have evolved — and speakers, microphones, and support for processor-intensive multimedia is commonplace — to yield an environment in which Web ventures can integrate advanced imaging and graphics technologies, including voice and audio features creatively. Loizides encourages merchants to incorporate technologies that can ease this process by including tools for product and price comparison, advanced search bots, and visualization clients that present a finer level of detail.

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