Interactive Trends to Watch in 2006

Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s look at the emerging trends for the coming year.

Browse and Search Converge Even Further

A trend that’s already well established and will finally mature this year is the convergence of search and browse. Some call it guided navigation, some call it adaptive search. I call it about time.

On the search side, companies such as Endeca provide functionality that adds browsing capabilities to search results. A search for “ring” on, for instance, results in more than the typical search results. The page includes filtering options, allowing the user to further refine the search by material or price.

On the browsing side, companies are adding similar refining capabilities. We designed the PerfectMatch system for If you click on “Jewelry,” then “Necklaces,” you get the search results for necklaces and the ability to narrow your search by length, metal, and stone. The functionality is like Endeca on steroids. For example, if you choose “Gold” under “Metal,” more options pop up, letting you choose what color gold and karat you want to see. You can choose any number and combination of attributes (such as gold or silver necklaces in a specific combination of sizes). This mix-and-match functionality is possible only because of an extensive attribute layer that underlies the products and its categorization structure.

E-Commerce Continues to Grow Beyond the Browser

In January 2004, I asked if 2004 was the year we went “beyond the browser.” Though some thought we already were (because of programs like Napster and IM), 2005 was really the year, thanks to iTunes. Additionally, technologies such as AJAX (define) and Flash let designers create complex client-side interfaces geared toward e-commerce. Our clients increasingly demand we take advantage of these technologies to build richer client-side user experiences. 2006 will push us even more outside the browser’s boundaries and provide much richer in-browser experiences, all geared toward e-commerce.

Redefining Success in Non E-Commerce E-Mail Marketing

There are two conflicting success metrics in email marketing. Most email marketers track open rates and CTRs (define) as a judge of whether the email is successful. This is fine in the e-commerce world.

In other industries, however, the point of a mailing is sometimes simply to inform people. Think of a TV station that emails you the current day’s TV listing. What’s the success metric for these programs? It isn’t CTR, because the email should have enough information in it not to require a site visit. Otherwise, what’s the point of an email if the user has to go to the site?

These email messages should be graded on their open and unsubscribe rates. If people open them and don’t unsubscribe, the messages are doing their job. If the messages contain so little information that people must go to the site, CTRs will increase, but so (most likely) will unsubscribe rates and user frustration. You must create a fine balance and redefine success.

Customer Loyalty Programs Become Smarter

More companies are finding that “dumb” loyalty programs (those that just give you a point for every dollar you spend) are very costly to maintain and don’t actually breed loyalty — especially when all their competitors offer the same program. “Smart” loyalty programs, which actually alter consumers’ behaviors and make them more profitable, will begin to emerge. Over Q4, Best Buy offered holiday coupons that were for specific product categories. One must imagine these are categories people don’t always associate with Best Buy, and the coupons were an attempt to bring in shoppers unaccustomed to thinking of Best Buy for those items (e.g., CDs and DVDs).

Toward the end of 2006, we should hopefully see these dumb loyalty programs lose favor with companies. Smart companies will create programs that are more personally attentive to customers’ needs and are more profitable in the long run.

Thoughts on the coming year? Let me know.

Until next time…


Related reading