Most eCommerce sites are, by design, static product catalogs. Sure there may be a place tacked on down at the bottom for customer reviews if you’re lucky, but for the most part the message is “here’s what we got, find what you want and hit ‘order now'”. The expectation for interactive experience has been set so low that the concept of ‘customer service’ has been moved to a post-purchase point (problem with your order? click here!), rather than some version of people asking if they can help you find something. This has worked, for the most part, because people have expected their online shopping experience to be an analog (pardon the pun) for a paper catalog they might receive in the mail.
How could we have gotten 15 years into the development of the web and not addressed this fundamental disadvantage vs shopping in person? Well, my thought is basically that this shortfall was not made apparet until the new surface area of business-with-consumer (not business-TO-consumer) communications were created via myspace/facebook/twitter/etc.
There is a huge opportunity to envelop customers tastes, contributions and personality into ecommerce sites rather than purely tacking them on at the end of the design/UX process.
As an example of a starting point, do you know those product registration cards included with electronics that sometimes you fill out and definitely never get any value from? Maybe those could be revised to offer a unique ID that consumers could use to drive traffic to a specific site, a la a low-investment affiliate program. If I can send people to companyname.com/customer/jeremymeyers and also customize what people see (model numbers, reviews, links) once they get there, you’ve involved me as a customer and an advocate, created a new traffic stream to your site, and treated me special.
As usual, a leader in this particular concept is Threadless (my favorite ecommerce site on the web). I have a page on Threadless thats all about me. Here, check it out. It can pull in feeds from other sites, and i can post blogs about products I’ve purchased, which show up on the products page. They also have a built-in affiliate program which they call “street team”. Referrals which lead to sales earn me $3 in store credit.
All of these are really simply implemented ideas that will create a much ROI and ROE.
In order not to be left in the dust by sites like Threadless, eCommerce sites (and consumer goods sites in general) would be very wise to reconceptualize their online presence to envelop their users and include them in the building of the site from the ground up, rather than allow them to comment on content generated internally.
Have you seen any other great examples of customer envelopment? Please share in the comments!