Customers may see them as cool new technologies that offer different views of products and shopping carts. But retailers are seeing Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) as a way to improve the online customer experience, and seal critical moments of truth.
“Retailers need to identify those real moments of truth in the online experience,” says Forrester principal analyst Ron Rogowski, who has written several reports on the topic of RIA implementation. “They need to identify the exact point at which they are losing customers. RIAs can be an enabling tool to make the customer experience seamless and eliminate gaps in that experience.”
RIAs are non-HTML based codes that trigger a new window and navigation options within the retailer’s web page. More practically they are the zoom function on a product page, or the color palette on a home design site. A good early example of RIAs in action, says Rogowski, was outdoor retailer REI’s experience with online shoe sales. Two years ago the retailer noticed that shoe sales were lagging behind the rest of its online inventory. The reason: for hikers, it’s not about the shoes, it’s about the tread. After implementing a RIA that allowed shoppers to zoom in on the tread, shoe sales improved dramatically.
Recent high-profile reports are showing improved conversion rates and customer satisfaction ratings tied to RIAs. Allurent, a company that develops technology for RIAs and then implements it for retailers, reports that it designed a flash-based application for Urban Outfitters that allowed the shopping cart to look and feel more like a live, navigable page instead of the end of the transaction. Customers can go back into the site, update quality, style, color, and size, and then easily return to the shopping cart.
Since deployment in March, Allurent says 19% more shopping carts are converted to final sales since the solution was implemented. A customer survey found that 80% of all customers prefer the new technology, and the revenue from the project has already surpassed Urban Outfitters’ entire investment. Urban’s customers also say they are more likely to shop at its site now than at competitors.
Joe Chung CEO of Allurent says, that RIAs are best viewed as a more mature customer engagement strategy than most web sites currently offer. They draw the customer in and give them different touchpoints from which to learn more, buy more, and communicate with the retailer. In short: they engage. “An RIA experience will take a shopper beyond a simple web page and into a new type of interaction,” he says. “Retailers need to indentify the kinds of interactions they’re trying to encourage and even look at the mental states they want to provoke.”
Rogowski says RIAs need to be thought through as an overall customer experience strategy. Applying an RIA temporarily as a holiday season internet check-out, or some other kind of “one-off” usage will not work to improve the customer experience. It may even be seen by the customer as an aberration that interrupts their navigation. On the upside, says Rogowski, RIAs “offer a host of benefits over HTML applications such as streamlined processes, contextual content, and automatic error validation. But with the freedom of more powerful tools to enhance the user experience comes the responsibility of building applications that don’t frustrate users. Designers can compromise the benefits of rich interfaces when they hide content and navigation, turn navigation into a game, use excessive motion, and provide poor interactive cues.”
Allurent’s future direction is consistent with Chung’s engagement strategy. After its success with the checkout applications for Urban Outfitters and other retailers, Allurent is working with Endeca to implement RIAs for search engines. It is also developing RIAs for home pages.
That direction is also consistent with Rogowski’s view that RIAs are keys to customer experience and moments of truth. “Retailers do not need to develop an RIA strategy as such,” he says. “But they do need to look deeply at their customers and the tools that will enhance their experience.