February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Cleaning up the store with Ajax

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This also enables the retailer`s contact center agents to more quickly pull up customer and product data. "All the customer data is close at hand, so we`ll do more calls per minute," Morison says.

Rampage also is using Ajax in administration tools for other back-end management processes. "We use Ajax to pull purchase order history and other data that we can request any time," Laff says.

Another course for Ajax will be to integrate with additional web site applications, such as site search and web analytics. "Longer term, one of the biggest challenges with Ajax is working with analytics to track what users of Ajax applications are doing," says Fry`s Deming.

Many analytics programs currently work off individual page views to track the clickstreams of visitors, but they may not be capable of tracking Ajax-supported movements because Ajax lets online shoppers call up images and text without refreshing pages or creating new page views. "The challenge for analytics applications is to show where a shopper moved a mouse and what images popped up," he says.

But such challenges will likely get worked out, experts say, as retailers continue to use Ajax to develop new levels of interactivity for shoppers. "This is the third generation of our site, but it`s so user-friendly with so many features, even visitors too young to shop find our dressing room a fun way to configure products," says Rampage`s Anderson.

And building traffic and making retail sites destination points--especially among younger visitors who may be attracted to the MySpace.coms of the web--is what Ajax development is all about.


Ajax, with new lemony-fresh scent!

Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, one of the hot new development tools for making web sites more interactive and user-friendly, is available in more than 100 flavors and e-retailers should choose from among them carefully, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond says.

"Ajax is available in about 130 frameworks, and doing an assessment of all of these is cost-prohibitive," he says.

One of the most effective ways to choose among Ajax frameworks is to look for open-source versions that are less costly than proprietary versions and are often supported by major technology companies, Hammond says. Retailers planning to integrate Google Maps on their sites, for example, might consider Google Inc.`s Ajax open-source web toolkit.

One of the more popular open-source Ajax frameworks, known as Dojo, is supported by many technology companies, including IBM Corp. One of Dojo`s advantages is that it adds functionality to Ajax that isn`t available in other versions--the ability to display online promotions triggered by particular shopping behavior, for example, says Dylan Schiemann, CEO of Dojo developer SitePen Inc.

A derivative of Ajax, called Comet, takes the technology a step further by letting browsers share software processing. This will enable retail web sites to let shoppers logging on from different computers simultaneously view the same shopping activity, such as when shoppers want to put together apparel outfits online and get the immediate opinion of their friends. A list of many of the Ajax frameworks and their developers is compiled by the OpenAjax Alliance at OpenAjax.org.

Some retailers, including Nike Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., prefer to stick with Flash, the widely used rich Internet application from Adobe Systems Inc. Flash caters more to web sites that want to focus on large, interactive images, while Ajax is more for building functionality. But retailers don`t always have to make a Flash-or-Ajax decision.

Walmart.com was redesigned recently using Flash applications from Laszlo Systems Inc., whose OpenLaszlo technology supports both Ajax and Flash. Although Walmart.com so far has used only Flash, a spokeswoman says, it`s also looking at how it may incorporate Ajax.

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