E-commerce platforms are some of the most versatile, adjustable websites and applications out there – and for good reason. Retailers are constantly shifting to showcase seasonal products or special discounts. In this spirit, a number of design trends and techniques have emerged, and e-commerce companies are quickly taking notice. These approaches have the potential to catch a shopper's eye and demonstrate the value of the items featured. Especially when the winter holiday season rolls around, e-commerce vendors are always looking for the next big thing when it comes to the design of their websites and mobile applications. However, performance and load tests are key to ensuring the success of newly designed platforms.
Data analysis for personalized service
One trend that is currently making waves in the e-commerce industry is the use of consumer data to better curate the list of items presented to each individual shopper. According to ZDNet contributor Simon Bisson, machine learning coupled with cloud technology has enabled retailers to gather and analyze information about general customers. Organizations can then use this data to decide which products will be shown to the user. BloomReach CEO Raj De Datta has dubbed algorithmic tools that carry out these functions "personalized discovery platforms."
"Under the hood of a service that uses machine learning to manage on-site navigation, is a 'Web relevance' engine that uses user data – which has been collected at scale – to understand demand," Bisson explained. "This isn't data about you, per se, it's the aggregate high-level data about all the users like you. If you liked blue sheets, that data suggests you're also likely to like a certain type of scented candle, an approach very similar to that used by machine-learning giant Amazon."
On the other hand, if the individual doesn't like or buy the items presented, that information is also collected and leveraged to determine the next set of products the shopper will see. This creates a highly personalized, optimized platform that is able to quickly shift to the unique demands of each user.
According to TMO Group contributor Shiyang Hu, designers may be able to take this customized approach to website creation a few steps further within the next decade. In addition to specialized product recommendations, users in the future will be able to place the navigation, widget tools and other sidebars anywhere they'd like within the platform.
"And the layout can be stored by their user account," Hu predicted. "Furthermore, maybe the loyal customers can delete some of the ads as well."
This age of personalization offers a plethora of opportunities for designers to create flexible, customizable designs that allow the user to do more with their interface. However, these capabilities will require the use of robust performance testing to ensure their functionality.
Videos and digital try-ons
In addition to more personalized layouts, other emerging design trends include the use of videos and drag-and-drop virtual try-ons to truly showcase specific products. Hu noted that several top retailers, including Amazon and Zappos, feature videos on their websites that include a model demonstrating a specific product. If a shopper is examining a shirt, for example, the attached video features a model wearing the top, turning around to show how it looks from all sides in real time.
"In this context, video gives online retailers an excellent medium for providing useful content and detailed product information," noted Practical Ecommerce contributor Armando Roggio. "Look for more retailers to begin including video and other media-rich content in content marketing and in product descriptions."
While Hu predicted that a number of other retailers will follow suit with videos, many vendors will also start featuring the ability to virtually try on products. Using new tools to connect users' cameras to the platform, shoppers can upload a photo of themselves and drag and drop items to see how they would actually look while worn.
With such complex components involved, however, designers must keep in mind two essential factors: These capabilities may impact page load times, and if they don't work as they should, consumers will only be turned off by them. For this reason, proper performance and load tests are needed to ensure the tools operate appropriately, and that they don't drag down load times. Hu pointed out that today, typical users won't wait longer than three seconds for a page to load. It is critical to take these considerations into account as the design of the platform changes.
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