October 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Just Ahead

(Page 2 of 3)

Women’s apparel retailer Anthropologie is testing the Allurent Desktop Connection, which vendor Allurent Inc. says is the first retail desktop application to use Adobe Integrated Runtime technology. The application creates a direct link between the retailer and the customer, cutting search engines, other online ads, and other browser-related distractions out of the connection.

Consumers would download the application from the retailer’s site onto their desktop, which provides a connection to Anthropologie that the desktop user can engage at will. The application pops up a window on users’ screens when they turn on the computer. Consumers can click then to maximize the window and see the content being served, or they can launch the window later by clicking on its dedicated desktop icon.

The application collects updated content from the retailer’s server when new content becomes available, via the Internet connection it maintains on the back end. But because the application, when launched by the consumer, serves the Flash-based content from what it’s already stored on the user’s desktop, the content comes up faster than would be the case if the content was served using a real-time Internet connection. That opens the door to the use of rich media too cumbersome to serve on web pages, and in fact, Allurent describes the Adobe Integrated Runtime-powered content served by the desktop application as “cinema-like.”

Floating

Images in the application “glide,” says Graeme Grant, Allurent’s chief operating officer. “Even the items in search-by-color glide into different positions based on moving to another color. Things just seem to float into prominence,” he said.

Michael Robinson, general manager of Anthopologie, says the application will be offered for download to Anthropologie’s most loyal customers next year. “That is who is going to be most likely to want to give us real estate on their desktop,” he says. Beyond the fact that it provides the direct connection to customers that Anthropologie wants, the richer visual imagery the application supports is a fit for a brand identity Robinson describes as “tactile, experiential and appealing to all the senses.” To gauge success, he’ll look initially at metrics such as customer response and feedback.

Web design firm Blast Radius Inc. specializes in keeping its eye on the customer experience, and it sees stock advertising messages pushed out to customers becoming less and less effective. “What will matter in the future is brand, and the way brand will matter is if people have a superior experience with it,” says Darrell Snow, vice president of technology and chief architect.

So Blast Radius is working on retailer implementations with a company called ShopInPage.com, whose technology projects a catalog browsing experience through search ads. When shoppers click on a search ad that uses ShopInPage technology, they download a Flash file to be played on a Flash player, an application that already exists on most desktops. It’s faster than going to the e-commerce site to see content. “This is one example we are seeing in which the advertising model is becoming more interactive and a better brand experience,” Snow says.

A second trend Snow notices is a build on how personalization technology customizes search on sites. While some providers of such technologies customize offers according to profiles based on customers’ purchase history and other data, including algorithms, Snow says the next iteration of profiling technology adds business rules to the mix and better automates site search results. That will allow a retailer to automatically generate offers to populate search results based not only on customer profiles, but also on the fact that the retailer may have 7,000 pairs of Wrangler jeans it needs to move.

A view that merges the customer’s behavior, the customer’s profile, and the retailer’s business allows online merchants to be more successful because it “hyperpersonalizes” what’s offered to shoppers, Snow says. Currently, Blast Radius is working with ATG on developing such implementation at retailers.

The one-to-one ideal

Technology vendor MyBuys Inc. also is working on driving better recommendations for shoppers at retail sites-and in the e-mails and RSS feeds retailers send to customers. MyBuys 3.0, released this summer, is a one-to-one behavioral targeting service that builds profiles based on transaction history, observed behaviors and stated consumer preferences. A testing and optimization component further refines the presentation of offers to customers, and the technology is capable of delivering those recommendation across all three channels.

MyBuys’ product recommendations to shoppers become even more on-target as those customer profiles expand. “As retained customer profiles become even deeper and more detailed, we enable retailers to establish an ongoing one-to-one relationship throughout the customer lifecycle,” says Paul Rosenblum, vice president of marketing. Karmaloop, an urban online clothing retailer, has experienced a 220% increase in revenue per customer interaction since implementing the MyBuys service to deliver personalized recommendations while customers shop on its web site as well as in follow-up messages in e-mail and RSS feeds, according to Anand Shah, chief of operations, Karmaloop.

What customers see on a web site isn’t the only area targeted by e-commerce technology developers for improvement-what happens behind the scenes can help move the needle on online sales as well. ATG is working to solve one such back-end issue for online retailers in a product it rolled out this summer and continues to develop.

“Many of ATG’s retail customers have expressed a need to be able to serve customers mid-transaction in a more seamless way regardless of whether they are registered on the site or anonymous,” says ATG’s Coleman. “If they have a web site and a call center, how do they transfer people from the site to the call center, even though they are anonymous, so agents know what promotion the shopper has been given and don’t have to create the shopper’s cart?”

ATG is beginning to address that question as it folds functionality from click-to-call and click-to-chat technology company eStara Inc., which it acquired last year, into the Commerce Service Center product it released this summer. That product makes information available mid-order to call center agents even when the customer hasn’t registered on site to make the purchase.

Redefining online success

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