If you’re confused about what exactly Web 2.0 is, you’re in good company. This often-repeated buzzword has many Web site owners — not just catalogers — scratching their heads and wondering what the heck Web 2.0 is and whether their sites need it.
Fear not. Web 2.0 actually is a broad term, closer to a concept encompassing a whole cluster of new tools and techniques used on Web sites. You didn’t see them three to five years ago. It’s not a software package you can buy from Microsoft or build yourself, but rather a catchphrase that denotes your Web site is keeping current with the trends in marketing and design that online visitors (mainly the young) find on other Web sites.
In short, the customer shopping experience is smoother with these tools; Flash can be used to show rotating products on a home-page (see www.mariefox.com for a good example) or AJAX to put more shopping functions on a single page and streamline the process (www.gap.com is a great example).
▲ Video. The use of broadcast media is another excellent example of the first type of Web 2.0 (technical tools) in action. With the vast increase of people using broadband to get online, Web site designers have added streaming media (both video and audio) to enhance customers’ visits.
Chinaberry (www.chinaberry.com) lets visitors sample its audio books online. A Touch of Class (www.touchofclasscatalog.com) has a short movie displaying its Zen Gardens Bamboo Water Fountain. Back when most people accessed the Web via a dial-up connection, such features could never be offered.
The young have driven the popularity of the second groups of tools — user-generated content — with much of it found on MySpace and Facebook. Rather than reading what a company or webmaster has put online, they read what their peers have produced online, and have an ongoing dialogue with a community of like visitors.
How does this affect a catalog site? Expect to see greater use of blogs, forums, wikis and customer reviews online. Motherwear (www.motherwear.com), a cataloger that offers clothing to nursing mothers, has an excellent blog for women to talk and share their experiences and questions with others.
▲ Customer reviews. Dozens of Web sites now include customer reviews on their products pages. Amazon.com was the first and most popular site to do this, but now there are many other sites doing it just as well. Take a look at the customer ratings on eBags (www.ebags.com), customer reviews on Backcountry (www.backcountry.com), or the “paw ratings” on PETCO (www.petco.com) to get ideas. (See the sidebar at right for what to consider if you’re flirting with offering the option of customer reviews on your Web site.)
Collaboration among users is becoming a common theme on Web sites, and it’s spreading to catalog sites, as well. Catalogs with unique product lines can benefit from blogs and forums where visitors can find a social network of people with similar interests. More general merchants can benefit from customer reviews, product-use contests and other add-ons that give visitors a voice on the Web site.
As you can see, the Web 2.0 moniker covers a lot of territory. More than one critic has said the term has been grossly overused. Podcasts, RSS, PDF downloads, maps, event calendars and even mobile marketing have been described as forms of Web 2.0.
Most important to the savvy cataloger is the decision of which of the many new tools out there make most sense for customers. No Web site is going to employ all the bells and whistles of “Web 2.0.” Pick the one that best enhances the customer experience on your site, and it will lead to increased sales at the end of the day.
John Deneen is president of SiteForm, a Chicago-based e-commerce solutions and Web site development firm. You can reach him at (773) 334-8030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.