Monday, August 31, 2009

An Interactive Online Shopping Experience

If you are a seller, the last thing you want to do with a buyer when she is about to buy something is to distract her. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, here is an exercise. Go to any online store's 'buy' page and count the outbound links. Do you see what I mean?

Bringing a visitor to the buy page - the holy grail for any web site that sells online - is necessary, but not sufficient for online sales. Your visitor must actually buy something. Imagine this. Your visitor is one click away from adding an item to the cart. What if she has questions that will make her feel uncertain? She may not quite make up her mind. In such situations, you want to leave no stone unturned in answering those questions.

There is one small problem, though. You are usually not there with the visitor when she is on your buy page. So, before you know it, she follows another link and takes off.

This is a perfect opportunity for embedded social interaction, as is illustrated by a web page I was reviewing recently.

Like other 'buy' pages, this one too has the product information, pricing and discount listed. There is the 'add to cart' button. Then there is the usual contact number, time zone and email listed. So far, nothing extraordinary.

What is different is that the frequently asked questions (FAQ) are not an outbound link or a separate menu item. Instead, there is a small space on the buy page itself, where people can view purchase related questions and their answers. They can also ask questions, and come back to see them answered.

Raptivity Buy FAQ: Click to Enlarge

According to the product manager, a visitor can search the FAQ with a keyword, for example, someone may search for 'ship' and all questions pertaining to shipment, shipping etc. appear as search results, making it easy to see answers. Visitors can choose whether they want to see most popular questions first, or most recent ones. People who want to help each other can add guest answers to a question. Someone who wants to see all Q and A's in print (!) can also click 'Export' to get a PDF output which compiles all questions and answers in a report.

Product Buy Page with Embedded FAQ: Click to Enlarge

"It took us less than an hour to set up and embed FAQ in the page, and every time anyone adds a question, we get an email alert," added the manager.

As of this writing, there are about a dozen questions, spread over four mini-pages. The biggest advantage of this implementation is clear: You don't send visitors wandering around the web site when you have them on the buy page. You instead keep them there, and answer as many questions as you can right there. This enhances engagement and improves goal conversion - a compelling illustration of effective embedded interaction.

To visit this page yourself, click here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Video-in-Print Debuts September 18, 2009

When Harry Potter opens a newspaper, a video starts playing right inside the paper. Sounds like a phenomenon from the world of fiction? Not any more. According to a story that just appeared in The Wall Street Journal, we are about to see video in a print magazine.

Video in a print magazine? Yes. The September 18 issue of Entertainment Weekly will contain screens the size of a cell phone display, and they will play CBS and Pepsi ads. Americhip developed the technology which allows up to 40 minutes of video content to be displayed on the screens.

When a reader flips to the page that contains the video ad, it will begin to play. Sort of like a greeting card that plays music when you open it.

Will this create a whole new way of experiencing print advertising? Right now there are several concerns. The cost of these ads is significantly high. There is no recycling of batteries and screens. The environmental cost is a concern, because people will simply throw the magazine away after reading. And of course there is no ability to track reader interaction.

Like all innovations, then, video-in-print has many wrinkles. What remains to be seen is whether the idea of embedding screens in print magazines takes hold before print magazines go completely online. Readers expect to be able to add comments, forward stories to friends, give feedback and so on. If print makes this happen, maybe there is a way to fulfil this expectation. Otherwise, people will increasingly use book readers - like the kindle - or smart phones, netbooks and laptops to do their reading. The debate goes on.

For now, we can agree that the Time Warner Inc. publication has opened a remarkable illustration of adding interactivity to the most unlikely environment - the print.