March 3, 2004, 12:00 AM

Seeing is believing: How e-retailers are boosting conversion rates with automated demonstrations of web sites

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From that, the company branched into Autodemo for web sites. "We recognized that the solution that we had created for software companies to demonstrate their product was a really good fit for web companies also," Stites says. "We saw that it could improve usability and reduce customer service costs."

Today, Autodemo specializes in web site and software demos only and has created 500+ demos for more than 100 clients. It`s been profitable since 1999, when the company created 22 demos for Microsoft Windows 2000.

Keep it simple The company has learned a lot since its founding, Stites says. "Those projects were very elaborate," Stites says. They incorporated original music and creative treatment and employed a large navigation hierarchy, he recounts. "We quickly found it was too difficult for users," he says. "The interface took a lot of commitment from the user to learn."

Today, the user interface is simplified to the point where all a shopper at Amazon, for instance, need do is click a "Click here to learn about searching, browsing, and shopping at Amazon.com" link. It launches the demo screen, detects the user`s Internet connection, displays a message that says "This demo includes audio" to cue users to turn their speakers on, then starts the demo. The shopper can control the demo with a small dashboard, but the demo proceeds automatically. "It`s a really efficient way of opening a user`s eyes and visually expressing the value of a web site to a potential customer," Stites says.

A large part of Autodemo`s success is the result of the fact that users don`t need high bandwidth Internet access to view the demos. "The fact that Flash has allowed for this kind of communication even with a dial-up connection has opened up great possibilities," Stites says. "It`s created a new way to interact with customers."

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