E-Commerce Insights: AJAX - Hero of E-Commerce?
I chose to devote this month’s column to AJAX, the scorching-hot technology that catalogers should become fully familiar with, if they’re not already. So let’s cut right to the chase and answer six key questions about AJAX.
1. Just what is AJAX?
In common usage, AJAX is meant more broadly to describe any on-page Web interactivity, regardless of underlying technology. These pages can resemble desktop applications with immediate drag-and-click responsiveness. Classic AJAX applications include Google Docs, Google Maps and Gmail.
2. How can AJAX help catalogers?
Smart catalogers are at the very least using smidgens of AJAX here and there to make their Web sites more user-friendly.
If you visit a Lands’ End product page for a woman’s dress, you’ll see all possible colors and sizes. If you select an unavailable combination, you’ll immediately see a pop-up box saying something along the lines of, “Sorry, this product is not available in Washed Coral in size 6.”
The response is instant; the page doesn’t refresh. And once you’ve selected a size, any unavailable colors are de-emphasized via gray dashes around the swatch.
In contrast, other clothing sites require users to hit “submit” for each size/color combination to check availability. This increases user frustration and decreases conversion.
In the next few years, we’ll see entire catalog sites executed in AJAX. Visit demo.script.aculo.us/shop to see a small demo of adding items to an online cart by dragging the thumbnails.
3. Is adding AJAX an all-or-nothing proposition?
If you use a canned e-commerce platform that can’t be customized, you might not be able to add any AJAX capabilities. So ask your engineers.
If you have the ability to modify your site, however, you can layer AJAX enhancements onto certain areas without needing an entire site rebuild.
4. Our Web site is homebuilt. Any suggestions for our engineers adding AJAX functions?
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
5. Any downsides to AJAX?
Also, check the impact of AJAX on your site analytics. Many Web analytics packages are page-based — they're ill-equipped to track AJAX experiences in their default configurations.
6. How vital should AJAX be to my 2008 plans?
For most catalogers, AJAX falls far down on the priority list. For example, you’ll get greater return from applying resources to the three pillars of search: site, natural and paid.
In 2008, treat AJAX as a spice, not as food. We’re still some years away from the average catalog site providing a full AJAX shopping experience — but that’ll come.
In the here and now, AJAX is a tool to make aspects of your critical pages more usable. Focus on search, product pages and your cart. Ask yourself, “Where would providing instant user feedback on the page, without a reload, make my selling path smoother?” Used judiciously, a sprinkle of AJAX will add zip to your online conversion!
Alan Rimm-Kaufman leads the Rimm-Kaufman Group, an agency helping large Web retailers with pay-per-click management and site effectiveness testing. Reach Alan online at www.rkgblog.com.