Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Neiman Marcus Gets More Complex

Monday, September 11, 2000
by Mark Hurst

Following the advice of the Jupiter press release that encourages e-commerce sites to add more complex technology, Neiman Marcus's new strategy is covered in an Internet Week article:

[Nieman Marcus] is following up a $24 million Web site investment with new multimedia applications that promise to make the online shopping experience more realistic... [The site] features a streaming 3-D shopping interface to display Neiman Marcus's line of Manolo Blahnik shoes.

Gosh, a streaming 3-D shopping interface! And to think, no successful e-commerce website offers 3-D shopping. What is Amazon thinking? Yahoo and AOL? Those and other top sites create a good, simple customer experience. Does Neiman Marcus actually think it can succeed with strategy that flies in the face of every top e-commerce site to date?

Yes, I know the counter-argument: Nieman Marcus sells really expensive stuff, so customers will want a richer online experience to browse it. My response: Regardless of the price of the item, customers will NEVER want to sit and wait forever for a plug-in to load... or for their computer to restart after crashing on a website's high-tech gewgaws. A good, fast, simple customer experience will never go out of style.

Thus I point you to our evaluation of the new Nieman Marcus site, which points out some basic problems in the customer experience on the site.

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Friday, September 8, 2000

Aliens from Jupiter Land a Press Release: A press release so outlandish, at first I thought it might be a hoax. But it's for real: Net research firm Jupiter Communications yesterday announced that most e-commerce sites are too "conservative" because they don't "enhance the online shopping experience" with Java or Flash.

Now I agree that there are some ways to make Flash and other plug-ins useful to e-commerce customers, and that sites should explore these technologies. But it's just wrong to state, as Jupiter did, that "consumers expect a richer online shopping experience because of the exposure they receive through new interfaces on most sites." Who wants more of that? What "consumers" is Jupiter talking to?

Alex here at Creative Good makes an interesting point. Replace "richer" with "easier" and suddenly you get an accurate statement: "consumers expect an *easier* online shopping experience because of the exposure they receive through new interfaces on most sites."

Below I paste the whole press release; here's the full press release.

I have italicized everything that I disagree with.

Jupiter: Web Retailers Neglect Web Technologies, Less Than 20 Percent Use Java, Flash, and Chat Functions

Conservative Approach to Online Shopping Outdated

NEW YORK September 7, 2000 -- Not even one in five online retailers deploys well-accepted and widely supported Web technologies such as Java, Flash, or chat functions to enhance online shopping experience and close sales -- according to a new report from Jupiter Communications, Inc., (Nasdaq: JPTR). Jupiter's report advises that online retailers abandon conservative Web site development practices and optimize their interactive real estate to match the technical capabilities, of most online consumers that can support a rich interface adequately.

As audiences upgrade hardware, add plug-ins, and upgrade to faster Internet connections, the addressable consumer technology environment becomes more diverse. At the same time, consumers expect a richer online shopping experience because of the exposure they receive through new interfaces on most sites. Merchants operating in complex online product categories -- auto, real estate, home furnishings and housewares, PCs and peripheral devices, and apparel -- now have the opportunity to integrate advanced applications that can satisfy the needs and address the problems of more experienced online shoppers. Merchants must move to meet consumers' heightened expectations now as late movers will lose audience and market share.

Many retailers have designed their sites for the lowest common denominator, which is shortsighted, particularly for vendors of high-consideration goods, said Lydia Loizides, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. This practice ensures support for technology laggards, but retailers must also meet the rising expectations of experienced online shoppers. Competitive pressure will make support for advanced technologies a must-have for sites operating in the complex product market. Retailers will have to offer more to their customers than just basic textual representation, search, and price comparison.

In a new Jupiter Executive Survey of online merchants, 60 percent cited customer feedback as a primary factor in their decision to integrate advanced technologies into the user interface. However, a recent Jupiter Consumer Survey of online shoppers found that more than 50 percent of respondents indicated they would use the technology if it were available. Specifically, 56 percent said they would use items such as virtual dressing rooms, and 51 percent said they would use zoom-and-spin technology if available. [MH note: I don't disagree that Jupiter measured those survey responses; instead, I disagree with the methodology. What customers SAY and what they DO are two very different things.]

According to Loizides, merchants must proactively deploy technologies that enhance the process of searching for and evaluating products and services online, or they will lose customers to those that offer a richer online experience. PCs have evolved -- and speakers, microphones, and support for processor-intensive multimedia is commonplace -- yielding an environment in which Web ventures can integrate advanced imaging and graphics technologies, including voice and audio features creatively.

Online retailers should place technologies on a graduating scale of complexity. Web sites implement a wide range of applications that target audiences from those of low bandwidth, low-consumer technology to those on the high-end of those scales. However, marketing and technology departments of online retailers have focused on purchasing and checkout phases and hyper-focused on abandoned shopping carts and purchase forms. Loizides encourages merchants to incorporate technologies that can ease this process by including tools for product and price comparison, advanced search bots, and visualization clients that present a finer level of detail.

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