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To support that trend, Scene7 is developing enhanced visualization technology for broad distribution. Set to debut in the second half of the year, it will provide online shoppers with a detailed look at how their custom item will appear before they actually have to buy it. And it could be applied to let the customer visualize everything from monogrammed apparel or towels to personalized mugs, custom tailoring and more. Without such technology, Mack contends, shoppers have to guess what the custom items would look like, which dilutes the power of the offer.
Scene7 also is working on technology that supports at a cost effective price point the greater use of dynamic images in e-mail, and farther along, dynamic imaging platforms that routinely deliver multimedia sales pitches online. “Despite what the whole world is saying about spam, e-mail is very successful for our customers. But the risk is that over time, much like banner ads, e-mail will atrophy in its performance because it burns people out,” Mack says. “So the next generation of e-mail is dynamic.”
What does that look like? Mack describes a rich HTML e-mail with images and graphics customized by recipient based on shopping and browsing behavior. Images-even video-can launch right in the e-mail to grab the shopper’s attention.
“People have the capability to delete an e-mail when it’s in preview before they actually have read one word of it, but it’s almost impossible not to look at that image before you hit the delete button,” Mack says.
Put the right image in front of the right customer, overlay it graphically with a free shipping offer if the customer has been shown to respond to free shipping promotions, and you have what Mack calls “the double whammy. It’s just going to pull you in.”
The amount of content included and exactly how it’s delivered to each customer will depend on the retailer’s content strategy, but the potential is there to integrate features like clickable swatches and zoom right into the e-mail for featured products without requiring the shopper to link back to the site.
Hitting the motivation bull’s eye
What happens at the customer interface online starts behind the scenes as online marketers attempt to zero in on what will trigger a browser into becoming a buyer, based on that individual’s online history and behavior. Web analytics providers point to developing trends that will make hitting that sweet spot more critical than ever to online retailers’ success in the future.
The rise of online marketplaces such as BizRate.com, Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com is to some extent diluting the importance of brand among online shoppers, says Chi-Hua Chien, director of marketing at web analytics provider Coremetrics Inc. “They are taking the issue of brand off the table because they all have ratings,” he says. “Because I am willing to go to any online store that gets at least four out of five stars, I will shop at Joe Blow’s electronics store online, even though in the pre-marketplace Internet world I probably would have paid $10 extra to shop at a branded store because I trust it.”
As a result, it’s increasingly important for retailers to derive maximum value from each customer interaction and extend the lifetime of those interactions as far as possible, lest they pay multiple times to bring the same customer back from a competitor. Yet capturing all a customer’s interactions with a retailer is challenging when those interactions occur across multiple channels. “They look at your site, they close the browser, they go to the call center to complete the transaction. How are you going to determine the ROI of that click-through?” says Chien.
Currently Coremetrics is working with some retailer customers to pilot a system for tracking that initial click-through to the call center, using its LIVE-lifetime individual visitor experience-profiles. One concept is to present a unique 800 number to each group of customers, depending on the action that brought them to the site. Under this scenario, when a shopper clicks through on a Google keyword, for example, the 800 number the shopper sees at the web site will be different for every interaction.
It’s not inexpensive as it requires the retailer to deploy 800 numbers dynamically, and that depends on the capabilities of its content management solution or commerce platform. And it’s not a perfect solution because it doesn’t track the purchase that the customer who researched on the web may make in the store-but that’s expected to change, too.
Chien says that while commerce transactions at stores now reside chiefly on private networks, in the future, many cash registers will shift to an IP-enabled form. That means those transactions will become web-enabled, therefore trackable by analytics products that track IP-based systems-and can be linked to the customer’s online behavior.
Some of the next generation of e-commerce tools and applications are already in limited use as they’re being tested, while even those that seem the most remote may be not more than a few years away. In fact, the technology to support the new applications in most cases already exists. Their emergence into the marketplace and into mainstream use will be a function of when technology developers figure out how to provide them at prices retailers are willing to pay, and at what point retailers figure they’ll lose competitive advantage by not putting them to use. “It’s an adoption question versus a technology question,” says Chien.
So while the constant stream of new tools and applications that marked e-commerce’s earlier days may be released more cautiously now by developers who watch the market’s readiness to accept them, it’s a safe bet that plenty are already waiting in the wings.
“One of the barriers to some of these developments was bandwidth, but now, 20 million homes are connected to broadband,” says Gehly. “That’s making it interesting.”