November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Creating a winning web site

Internet Retailer

With the advent of Web 2.0, making sense of web site applications has only gotten tougher for retailers. Today`s web site technology not only offers flashier bells and whistles, its sophistication has raised more questions than ever for retailers about how to prioritize implementation in order to boost sales, improve customer satisfaction and get the best return on investment.

Further complicating matters is that retailers need to consider minor details, such as accommodating shoppers with older computer technology that supports monitors with 800×600 screen resolution, compared to the 1024×768 resolution which about 80% of all desktop systems in the United States support.

As daunting as the process of selecting the right site technology may appear, the process can be successfully navigated with the proper planning and market research.

Look at the big picture

"Retailers need to consider the objectives of the project, what technologies are working on their site when it comes to meeting their objectives, whether those applications can be refined to improve sales and the customer experience, and whether the technologies being considered will pigeonhole their business," says Michael Svanascini, COO of AmericanEagle.com, a Park Ridge, Ill.-based web site design, development, hosting, and marketing company.

One technology e-retailers need to seriously consider is Ajax, (Asynchronous Javascript), which is used to create interactive site applications. The benefit of Ajax is that it allows shoppers to examine product details, such as color swatches, without having to leave the product page. Ajax works by exchanging small amounts of data with the server so the entire web page does not have to be reloaded with each click, thereby increasing the interactivity, speed, functionality and usability of the page.

"Ajax is becoming mandatory," says Svanascini. "Shoppers no longer want to shuffle through multiple pages to look at sizes or other product attributes. Instead, they want a site that is more responsive."

Consumers are also craving more interactive Flash video as it can deliver the same level of information they can get from an in-store sales representative, thereby reducing the number of pages they must wade through to obtain the same information on a retailer`s web site.

One advantage to Flash video is that downloads are fast, which prevents shoppers from having to wait more than a second or two for the video to load. "We are seeing more retailers use video product demonstrations, instructional pieces and commercials on their site," says Svanascini, who adds that one client that incorporated Flash video has experienced a 40% gain in sales since its site relaunched in June. "Video provides a better, more thorough view of the product."

Low-tech solutions

While Flash video and Ajax offer high-tech bells and whistles, there are less sophisticated applications that can enhance the shopping experience just as much, such as customer reviews. "Reviews are a simple addition to a site, but they are gaining a lot of importance in e-retailing because consumers look for honesty in a retailer," says Svanascini. "Shoppers want to know the truth about a product and if all the reviews on a retailer`s site are positive, they will go elsewhere to get the real story. It is best retailers show all valid reviews."

Web hosting services are another essential for retailers, as many lack the infrastructure to ensure quality site performance. AmericanEagle.com`s data center hosts more than 2,500 web sites for retailers of all sizes, is configured to handle more than 1 billion hits per day, and provides nightly backup on a 64-terabyte tape back-up system.

Lastly, retailers need to find technology partners that will work to create a customized site design and applications to support the needs of their business. "There are a lot of things retailers need to consider in building their site and they need partners that will work with them to find a solution no matter the size or complexity of the project," says Svanascini.

By following these guidelines, retailers can successfully navigate the complexities of today`s site technology.

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