A recent EConsultancy blog reviews UK shoe retailer Clark’s new e-commerce site. While I think the review itself is very insightful and informative, this post actually does a better job describing some of the key features required in a 2nd generation e-commerce site. Personally, I think Clark’s has done a fairly decent job at putting together a very capable and competitive e-commerce site, rich with information and features.  First generation e-commerce sites were very static, with little information, few pictures, difficult to navigate, search and use. It is now a web 2.0 world, and retailers and e-tailers have been moving towards E-commerce 2.0 sites, an environment that provides a rich, easy to use, and social shopping environment. Wikipedia describes E-commerce 2.0 as a more social, personalized shopping experience.

Shopping by definition is ’social’. As quoted by Doc Searls in Cluetrain Manifesto:

“Markets are conversations.  The first markets were filled with people, filled with talk. Some of it was about goods and products. Some of it was news, opinion, and gossip…all of it engaged someone.”

In less technical terms, these are the features of an e-commerce 2.0 site that I think are important:

  • Tell a story - every retailer or merchandiser has a story to tell about a particular collection, model, design or color.  Create a brief video or blog and share this with the consumer. You bought these products and assortments for a reason, now explain this to me, the consumer, so that I will understand why I should want to buy this too. Allow place for questions and discussions among customers.
  • Multi-angle shots - provide lots of clear crisp photos from many angles. When I am in a store, I will pick-up a product and look at it from every angle. I should be able to do the same online.
  • Great search capabilities - I should be able to search by category, collection, model, color, size, with multiple groupings and drill-downs. If I am only interested in high-top black running shoes in size 12, don’t waste my time navigating through other products. I should be able to select and de-select multiple tags and multiple search criteria at any time, until I get the specific product or group of products that interest me.
  • Simple and timely registration - do not make me register until I absolutely have to. If I am forced to register earlier than I need to, I’m gone. Make registration simple and quick with the least amount of information required possible. If I miss a field or enter incorrect information, take me right to that field with a  clear explanation of what I need to do to correct it. I hate having to re-submit a registration 6 times, before getting it ‘right’!

    Credit to: Dan Eriksson

  • Quick check-out - checkout has to be quick, simple and well-guided. Provide clear indication of where I am, what I am doing, what is next, and what I may have missed every step of the way. I do not want any surprises where I have to go back a few steps or even worse start all over again! I should be able to add/remove items from my shopping cart at anytime.
  • Customer reviews - allow customers to post reviews and rate products. These should be easily entered and reviewed.
  • Social & intercactive - overall the site needs to have plenty of place for discussion and social interaction. Questions and answers with buyers and other company employees, open discussion threads, comments on product reviews, customer feedback on site, product collections, service/delivery, etc.

This is now a web 2.0 world and customers expect a different experience. Aside from being able to shop with ease there is a need to provide a social experience. People will still go shop in stores for this experience, but providing a social experience when shopping or learning on-line,  will attract more customers and provide them a better overall on-line experience.

What do you think is important in the next generation of e-commerce sites? What would make the overall experience better and easier? What are some of your favorite places to shop or browse online? Please share your thoughts.