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Tools to help improve e-commerce experience

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Online sales are slowing for some organisations as buyers grow increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied with the web shopping experience. 

 Gartner's research has found that few sites have taken advantage of new technologies to improve usability, interactivity and navigation.
However, successful e-commerce operations have invested continually in upgrades to their sites, with many of these improvements running off the Ajax platform.
"Many people say that they don't enjoy shopping on the web because it's often difficult to find products they want, prices and shipping costs can be hard to calculate, and check-out often is frustrating and time-consuming," says Gene Alvarez, research vice-president at Gartner.
"Gartner research finds that many e-commerce customers are not repeat visitors. e-commerce sites have one shot to win over buyers – first impressions count. If the site doesn't win the first time, then it usually won't draw customers back, unless the company offers promotions or discounts, or customers are compelled to return.
"Most companies hastily launched their original e-commerce sites in response to the explosive popularity of early online shopping," says Alvarez. "This approach was sufficient at the time because customers were willing to tolerate the many shortcomings of Web 1.0 such as poor visualisation, the constant need to refresh screens, multipage and multistep checkouts, the need to re-enter personal data, 'start-overs' and a generally slow buying experience."
Web 2.0 technologies improve customer experiences, boost sales productivity, and help CRM efforts. Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, has been used by many so-called "Web 2.0" technologies that run rich Internet applications.
Ajax refers to a browser-based repertoire of techniques for implementing web applications in which page elements and content are retrieved asynchronously in the background, and in which the page display is updated incrementally without redisplaying the whole page.
Although Ajax has been around for many years, what¹s new for e-commerce sites are evolutions in browser implementations and in hardware processing capacity that enable JavaScript code to run correctly and consistently in browsers, considerably enhancing the customer experience.
Gartner has identified nine common Ajax tools, each using a specific capability that enables customers to have a pleasant and efficient shopping experience:
* Common Ajax use – ans Internet sales tools;
* Precaching data – so buyers can shop at their own pace;
* Single-page applications – to allow single-page check-outs;
* Improved interface controls and effects – sliders can show different products or options when moved, without a new page;
* Auto completion of data – entering a postcode will complete city information;
* Partial data submission – the user does not have to complete an entry to do something else;
* Keep data fresh – updates totals or prices when items in basket change, without a page refresh;
* Realtime data validation – prevents configuration mismatches;
* Load content on-demand based on an event – mouse over to show detailed text, pictures, menus and other information; and
* Mashups (Web application hybrids) – for store locators with maps or sales calls with maps.
"These are not the only uses of Ajax for sales tools but represent leading applications of Ajax that demonstrate real-world value for online consumers," says Alvarez.
"When properly designed and implemented, they can greatly assist customers during pre-conversion processes, such as product location, evaluation and visualisation, leading to a better shopping experience and higher levels of sales."