But losses mount for the home furnishings e-retailer that went public in October.
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D-Link Systems, a manufacturer that operates a site that promotes its products then points shoppers to the e-commerce sites of retail partners, has used the services of rich media and Web 2.0 technology vendor Easy2 Technologies Inc. to create its Network Configurator. It decided to go with the highly interactive approach because, it says, figuring out the kind of computer network one needs and the products required to build that network can be a daunting task.
When a shopper clicks on the Network Configurator, launched in April, a video begins. In it, a friendly woman welcomes the shopper, presents some basic information about building a network, then begins walking him through the first question on the road to a shopping list. Behind the woman are animations that complement her descriptions.
The shopper clicks on the appropriate answer, displayed next to the video screen, then clicks Next. On the following page, the woman describes the next phase of the network-building process and asks another question. And so it goes for a few more pages until a shopper is presented with a list of products that meet his particular needs. On the shopping list page, a shopper can interact even more with the site by clicking on the selected products to view animations, videos, galleries of pictures, 360-degree views and more.
In a Flash
D-Link shot the videos of the woman against a green screen. Easy2 Technologies created the animation and edited it into the videos. It then used Flash technology to create Flash Video files that begin playing seamlessly when only 10% of a file has been downloaded.
For the shopping list page, the system lets D-Link list products in various ways; for instance, by price, by promotion, by retail partner. D-Link routinely sends an updated spreadsheet with product information and promotional rules to Easy2. These are incorporated into the application, hosted by Easy2, which only taps D-Link’s servers for product availability and current price.
D-Link won’t disclose what it pays for the application, which required some customization of Easy2’s existing system. Easy2 says customization can run around $50,000 and monthly fees for its technology and services range anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on the volume of traffic and products.
The Network Configurator will be worth the investment because consumers now expect a web site to provide more than just product information and prices, says Daniel Kelley, senior director of marketing.
“The more in-depth education and knowledge you can display about a product, the better the chance you will have over a competitor to make that sale,” Kelley says. “That’s why we deployed rich, in-depth, highly interactive content.”
Vendors have more Web 2.0 e-commerce innovations in the works.
Fry Inc., for example, is developing a system that will let a shopper on an e-commerce site chat with friends from a range of social networks without leaving the e-commerce site. It will be something like how CNN and Facebook cooperated on Inauguration Day, enabling Facebook friends to exchange comments as they watched the CNN feed of the event. In this case, consumers also will be able to go their separate ways in an online store, as they may in a bricks-and-mortar store, and meet up on any page whenever they want to discuss a product.
LTU Technologies Inc. has just begun marketing a multimedia visual search and browsing technology that enables retailers to more distinctly classify and correlate products by color and visual style and shoppers to search for and browse products in a different fashion.
The technology of the vendor, which is working on a customized proof of concept with eBay, extracts all the colors in a product image and classifies each product with highly specific color boxes displayed on each product page. It also analyzes and matches the shape of products, particularly useful in apparel, the company says.
So, when a shopper selects a color box on a product page, the system presents a search results-like page that displays all products that contain the same color. Shoppers can do the same with visual style. So, for instance, if a shopper is looking at a colorful blouse, she can click in the color box display on the color she likes best in the blouse and the system presents a results page of brooches, earrings and scarves with the same color.
“The technology helps a retailer because, for example, the retailer may offer clothes from a great many different collections, all of which classify colors and styles in different ways. Our system can look at everything and pull matching colors and shapes from any collection. It’s automatic, does not require human interaction, it unifies everything,” says Alexandre Winter, LTU Technologies CEO and co-founder. “And it helps customers find things on a retail web site in an efficient way. It not only refines search but expands it to browsing.”
FlipSeek has begun offering retailers a technology that embeds hyperlinks in online videos in a way that the links follow the product throughout the video. Clicking on the link takes the viewer to a retailer’s product page displaying the item.
Online video today can provide information, but doesn’t directly lead to sales, says Adam Marino, founder and president of FlipSeek.
“We can monetize video where the video itself is not only providing information and helping with branding and increasing length of stay on sites, but also working to sell products,” Marino says. “Because when someone sees something in a video they are interested in buying, they can click on the product at any point during the video and are taken to the product page or shopping cart and can buy then and there.”
That’s a long way from viewing a static image on a retailer’s web page, and an example of how far Web 2.0 has come in changing the online shopping experience.
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