If You Build It, They Won’t Come
E-Business is changing. The days when enterprises could throw up a simple e-commerce site, wait for prospects to roll in via search engine links, and leave happy customers are long gone. Several forces are shaping this transformation:
- User Expectations
- Audience Location
The Web lowers barriers to entry for e-commerce wannabes. For a few bucks a month, a budding e-tailer can launch a site on GoDaddy, Yahoo!, or EBay, or any one of a myriad of other platforms. For this price they get quick templates for building an online store, monetization options that include advertising, credit card transactions, and more, and reliability and security guarantees. It’s no longer enough to present an online store; now you must present an online experience that justifies the user’s time. Leading online retailers go to great lengths to include compelling content from reviews, to photos, to community areas to keep prospects and customers coming back for more. This enables them to compete on something besides price; pure price-based competition is generally a loser’s game.
Customer expectations from online stores, and from Web sites in general, are much higher than they used to be. This is in part due to improved interactivity delivered through RIA techniques from Ajax, to Flash, to Silverlight; but it is also due to snappier HTML-only interfaces like those users became accustomed to from Google. Google was the first search engine (or at least the first widely-used one) to include only the bare minimum on the search page. This “minimalist” design aesthetic has permeated modern Western Web design, and it shows; on average, North American users will search around on a Web site for only 3-5 clicks before they give up in frustration, while in Latin America the number is much higher (but don’t get your hopes up, the number is coming down there too). We’ve been spoiled, and now we’re impatient. E-business architects and managers must take into account a fickle audience.
Finally, the audience is shifting to new channels. The days when search engines are the primary source of customer referrals are coming to a close. Instead, prospects will rely on social networks to help them identify products and services they’re interested in buying. No amount of SEO or usability fine-tuning will help target an audience that lives somewhere else. In Open RESTful APIs are Big Business, David Gootzit and I discuss the potential for extending the enterprise Web presence beyond monolithic Web sites to reach out to where the customers are – which increasingly is on Facebook, Twitter, or on their iPhones.
It’s a brave new world of e-commerce, and the first chapters of this story are only now being written.