December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Tech With Torque

What makes a winning e-retail site? A simple, straightforward catalog, modeled largely on the paper version, coupled with a wrinkle-free checkout but few other bells and whistles? Or a site that continually tries out new technologies-not as marketing ploys, but to give its customers a unique and helpful shopping experience by leveraging what the Internet can add to retailing? The answer depends not only on what you’re selling but on what your customers expect. Live chat or voice over Internet may help close sales to customers who want to know how one item of clothing compares to another in color, pattern or weave. Zoom and spin imaging may give another would-be buyer the confidence he needs to be sure that the watch you’re selling really is a Movado. And something as unsexy as caching software may spice up your sales by serving up pages faster and with more personalized content.

“One of the attributes of the Web is that the first mover tends to be the killer in their category,” says Gene Alvarez, e-business program director at the Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. “The message is to be strategic in providing facilities that will make a difference for shoppers.”

On the following pages, Internet Retailer provides an overview of 10 “hot” e-retail technologies, so named not because they are silver bullets, but part of a larger, hotter strategic picture. Some, such as streaming media, await faster connections and higher bandwidth before they’re widespread in helping sell shoppers with demo videos and other uses. Others, such as live chat, raise scalability concerns among retailers interested in experimenting, but worried about annoying their customers with long queues. Here, too, necessity is stirring invention: FaceTime Communications, for example, recently unveiled an enhanced version of its Instant Customer suite that lets e-retailers remove the live chat option when all agents are busy. “It’s most important to offer customers alternatives,” says FaceTime marketing chief Robin Seldon.

“The online retailing world is still trying to deal with the tactile shopping environment,” Alvarez adds. What each e-retailer should consider, he says, “depends on the service-value proposition of your site.” What will make the difference in your category? A smart response requires knowing your customer better than ever.

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