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A Web 2.0 Makeover for Online Stores

Using microsites to explore new ideas and brands

As many e-commerce sites celebrate their 10th birthday, web stores are facing the reality that the Internet is changing and current sites need to be refurbished. From left-hand navigation and search to product catalog and product detail, from the cart and check out to the general design and format - most sites are in desperate need of a makeover. With changes in web innovation being accompanied by drastic changes in the economy, no major vertical has more to gain than e-commerce.

Many new ideas are emerging all the time - including social shopping - that not only drive traffic, increase conversion, and decrease abandonment, but also increase brand loyalty and provide customer feedback directly to merchants. E-commerce is changing at a rapid pace. Projects are getting funding, action is taking hold, and innovation is being born.

There is considerable pressure to innovate and grow. However, retailers are hesitant to prematurely invest in anything that may harm their current e-commerce sites, the basis of the business. The fact that new e-commerce ideas have not yet become part of standard commercial e-commerce software does not calm fears, but the rapid pace of e-commerce innovation makes retailers nervous to stand by and wait.

The Testing Grounds of Microsites
The hesitation to adopt new concepts fuels the relevance of the microsite. Microsites are testing grounds for new retail concepts, technologies, and architectures with unique business models. These sites explore new ideas and brands within their own URL, often only loosely associated or not associated at all with the main e-commerce site.

One of the most important things the new retail concept sites must prove is return on investment (ROI). In order for this to be successful, the investment and risk involved must be low to protect the main e-commerce site. If the risk and effort remain relatively low, a microsite is the perfect way to explore new retail concepts, brands, and technologies. Let's take a look at some retail concepts that leverage this technique.

Using RIAs to Drive Conversion and Brand Loyalty
Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) can be used to enhance customer experience and address the rapidly growing expectations of online shoppers. For example, many e-commerce sites now feature a left-to-right navigation in place of the traditional top-down navigation to reflect the changing shape - from taller to wider - of screens. Sites are also using drop-down carts that keep the shopping experience moving and help increase the average order size.

More Stories By Adam Michelson

Adam Michelson serves as the director of Ecommerce at Optaros, an international consulting and systems integration firm that assembles online shopping solutions that deliver superior business performance. He works with clients to leverage next-generation Internet technologies for ecommerce re-platforming, new online retail concepts, and multi-channel efforts. A leading authority on ecommerce, he speaks often at industry events and is a published author in trade and national publications.

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