July 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Rich Media/Video

Shoppers want rich features and they want them fast

Lead Photo

When it comes to web sites, consumers like them visually appealing and highly functional. That's why when Merrell.com relaunched its site last year, it used a rich Internet application to help load up its site with features to not only inform customers but impress them as well. The redesigned site offers full-screen product view options and allows Merrell to design filters that enable consumers to search by outdoor activity, color, comfort technology features, style and terrain to be tackled.

And Merrell isn't alone. The recently relaunched NikeStore.com enables shoppers to zoom in so closely they can see every last stitch on a pair of shoes. And at TheNorthFace.com, high-resolution photographs are so realistic adventurers can nearly feel the dry heat of the desert or the icy wind on a 14,000-foot peak. The site also offers rich features to make buying easier, such as a quick-look tool to give shoppers a fast overview of an item.

Surveys invariably show that consumers use rich media features, and are more likely to buy when they do. However, retailers should be cautious not to sacrifice site performance for beauty. Online shoppers want their rich features fast.

A need for speed

For example, while consumer response to the Merrell redesign was generally positive, there were complaints at first that the site loaded too slowly, says the company, which sells apparel and footwear through sites in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Merrell had to work to make file sizes smaller, and make other changes, such as getting rid of some navigation options, to optimize the site and make load times faster.

Nike also had to work out some performance kinks with its snazzy new web store when it first launched. Chris Shimojima Nike's vice president of global digital commerce, says when the site first launched it experienced some issues with long page loads, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region and in the Los Angeles area.

For retailers that want their rich media and happy customers too, there is help. Some services offer testing for retailers adding manufacturers' content to their web sites. Displaying product images and other content provided by manufacturers can offer shoppers a richer experience, but retailers run a risk if they display such content before testing how it will appear on their sites. These services measure and track how manufacturers' content performs on their retailer clients' web sites by simulating how online shoppers interact with that content.

And content delivery networks help e-retailers serve up rich media faster by operating servers across the country—and the world—that deliver site data to consumers nearby, so that a consumer in Dallas is accessing data from a server in that city, and not from the retailer's data center in Boston, for example.

Some content delivery networks go even further, for instance, by offering web analytics tools that show web site operators how search engine crawlers are experiencing a web site. These tools can tell site operators if a page element such as a photo isn't displaying or if pages take a long time to load.

Online shoppers want rich web sites and speedy page loads, too. Luckily, there are services that can help e-retailers deliver both.

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