# Tuesday, 06 March 2012

In this series of articles we discuss the various methods of integrating with payment gateways; in particular how various payment gateways handle integration with hosted payment forms.

In this article we take a closer look at the most commonly employed integration method for payment gateways. Gateways like Authorize.Net, PayPal, WorldPay, Ing Bank (iDEAL), Payer, DIBS, and ePay all use this method for initiating payment using a hosted payment form.

If you’re interested in more background before proceeded please take a look at Intro to Payment Gateway Archetypes.

What Makes An "Outbound User Post"

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The "Outbound User Post" is the most common archetype we've come across; indeed this is the model we originally designed our payment gateway integration framework to support.

The premise is the HTTP post with a twist: The gateway expects an HTML form to be generated on the store end, which in turn issues a HTTP post to the payment gateway accomplishing two goals in one go:

  1. Payment details such as currency, amount, etc. are sent to the gateway
  2. Customer is redirected to the payment gateway's hosted payment form

The upshot  is that it's pretty simple to work with as it relies solely on HTTP; as such it can readily be integrated using pretty much any technology. All you need to do is get the target URL for the post and the predefined form values right and you're good to go.

More Is Less

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As it turns out combining the submission of information and the redirect as the sole integration point requires the form to be sent to the customer's browser and submitted from there by the customer herself.

The general purpose payment framework generally has two options for handling this type of integration:

A) Displayed Form, which displays actual information such as the final order confirmation to the customer, or

B) Transparent Form carrying only the required payment information without displaying any details to the customer, which is auto posted to the gateway.

Next up we’ll take a closer look the two options for handling integration.

Displayed Form

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The displayed form is essentially embedded on a page displayed to the customer; generally speaking the last page displayed before handing over control to the payment gateway. The form contains predetermined values for amount, currency, and all the other required information to get the payment process going.

The issue obviously becomes one of dealing with ensuring that all the required values are present and named according to the specification and to avoid having to redo the same form over and over again.

In a scenario where a designer or developer control what is displayed to the customer this approach can become quite tricky to handle, i.e. the classic e-commerce "confirm order and proceed to payment" page.

Generally speaking getting this right is a huge part of getting the integration working. As it turns out this is cumbersome at best and downright daunting at worst unless you do this sort of integration work on regular intervals.

Building the form from scratch seems to be what the payment gateways requiring the "Outbound User Post" integration model had in mind when they designed it.

Transparent Form

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The second option is an auto generated transparent form, which has no other purpose than to carry the payment information required by the payment gateway. It will never be displayed to the customer, but rather transparently be submitted to the payment gateway.

To achieve a transparent redirect JavaScript is required to auto submit the form on behalf of the customer. Most sites out there today require JavaScript to even function properly, which makes it a reasonable assumption to build a framework on.

The upside is very tight control over the payment information sent to the payment gateway and essentially allows a general purpose payment framework deal with the payment without concern for the actual store pages; as such it comes pretty close to being a "real" web service.

In turn designers and developers have an easier time building the store frontend as payment is handled almost as a pure web service although the intermediate form is still there albeit transparently so.

In Summary

The "Outbound User Post" archetype seems archaic in the assumptions made for the integration model. It's simple, yes, but either requires developers integrating using it to completely redo the integration form for each online store or introduce intermediate forms to achieve a transparent integration model.

The uCommerce e-cpmmerce platform handles the outbound user post via a standard transparent form, which is injected into the checkout flow, sent to the customer, and submitted transparently, seamlessly handing over control of the checkout flow to the payment gateway.

The observant customer will notice an intermediate page displayed for a fraction of a second before being handed over to the page gateway.

Surely there must be a better way. It is so happens there is. Read on a discover "Outbound Placeholder".

posted on Tuesday, 06 March 2012 23:05:32 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 26 February 2012

payment-gateway-flow

At uCommerce we come into regular contact with payment gateways of all shapes and sizes. At the time of writing this post we're up to fifteen separate payment gateway integrations.

With so many integrations under our belt I realized that we inadvertently developed ad-hoc archetypes to describe the various types of gateways.

When dealing with a new payment gateway the archetypes let us quickly determine which type of gateway we're dealing with and what the requirements will be for integration with it.

This is the first in a series of article describing the various archetypes we've found so far.

A Little Background

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Back in the day there was just one way of integrating with a payment gateway: Good old direct API call. The premise was simple; call a remote API with credit card details  entered on your website and get a "yay" or "nay" response back from the gateway with some transaction details. Forms were easy to design, integration was straightforward. All was good in the land of online payments.

Along comes the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a combined effort between VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB aimed at increasing security around online payments. All good, right?

It did in fact manage to increase security, but increased the complexity integrating with payment gateways as well. “But how?”, you might ask.

Online stores would no longer be able to store or even have customers enter credit card information on their websites without a costly certification of the operating environment.

As a result the payment form found a new home away from home: Payment gateways started offering hosted payment forms to overcome the requirement for the PCI certification. Thus the hosted payment forms were born.

What Sets the Gateways Apart

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The authorization process and more specifically authorization using a hosted payment form is really what sets payment gateways apart today. It turns out that APIs for acquiring, voiding, and refunding are pretty much all based on the same principle: Direct API integration based on tokens issued during authorization.

It seems that payment gateways all came up with their own variation over the  same theme for dealing with hosted payment forms. No standard exists for handling the process although archetypes have emerged over time as we discovered.

Before we dive into the archetypes let's take a look at why the hosted payment form exists and why so many online stores are using it today.

The Hosted Payment Form

Hosted Payment Form

The primary reason for introducing the hosted payment form was, as we discussed previously, to avoid handling credit card information locally on the online store's own servers. The responsibility is handed over to the gateway.

This makes hosted payment forms great for avoiding security issues with credit card information and generally speaking is the way to go for online stores large and small. Depending on the gateway the hosted payment form allows for the same flexibility as the direct integration combined with a local payment form method so it's really a win-win situation.

What's the Downside

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Integrating a hosted payment form is generally more tricky. There are more concerns in the way payment information such as amount due is transmitted as many of the available solutions require that information to be submitted by the customer herself to the gateway.

Commonly the process works like this: The online store sends payment information to the customer's browsers, which in turn submits that information to the gateway.

When information is passed to the customer and then on to the gateway a huge can of worms concerning tampering with the payment information is opened up. What's to stop the customer from changing the amount to a big fat zero and getting their order for free?

Thus the total sum of required moving parts to make hosted payment work is increased making for a more complex integration model, e.g. redirects between multiple servers, encryption of payment information, and secure processing of payment gateway responses; more commonly known as callbacks.

Outbound vs. Inbound

in-out-arrowsWhen figuring out which archetype a payment gateway we're dealing with we need to consider two aspects: The outbound call and the inbound callback.

It's important to note that when using outbound/inbound we're looking at the process from the point of view of the online store, i.e. the customer is outbound from the store to gateway and vice versa.

The outbound call deals with passing the customer and relevant payment information from the store to the payment gateway.

The inbound call deals with passing the customer back from the payment gateway along with the all important "yay" or "nay" for the status of the transaction.

In Summary

Hosted payment forms offer tangible benefits over direct API integrations when it comes to security and in some cases flexibility like when dealing with additional security features like 3D Secure.

The benefits come at the price of a more complex integration model, which seems to have as many variations as there are payment gateways.

Despite this we decided to make hosted payment forms the default for built-in payment providers in uCommerce to minimize requirements for online stores running our software.

Hence archetypes evolved because we have a very real need for terminology to enable us to easily talk about the gateways.

posted on Sunday, 26 February 2012 23:05:23 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, 02 March 2011

Social commerce is all about customers engaging each other helping online stores and webshops sell more by leveraging the high degree of credibility inherent in personal recommendations and getting the word out to a wider audience. Social commerce is available in many guises: At uCommerce we tend to think about it as internal- and external social commerce.

Reviews, Ratings, and Comments

The very first step in adopting social commerce is to enable customers to post reviews. As such we’re dealing with internal social commerce as everything happens in the webshop and doesn’t involve interaction with sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Even in online stores stores with product lines changing frequently there’s value to adding reviews to products as customers tend to skip past product information and dive straight into the user generated content to see whether or not a product is worth any further the attention.

Product Ratings

When a customers look at product information the very first thing that will catch her eye is the star rating of a product. uCommerce enables customers to post ratings. Each rating is aggregated into an average rating stored on each product, which can be used for searches, filtering, and custom product listings like “Most popular in this category”.

Ratings with no additional content require no approval and will be aggregated into the overall score by default. This behavior can be overridden by modifying the Product Review Pipeline.

Star Ratings in Google Search Results

Product review in Google Search

When searching for products online which link would you be more inclined to click? The one with no star rating or the one with star rating?  When searching on Google and Bing you’ve probably noticed that some search results are displayed with a star rating. This helps your search results stand out in the crowd and will bring in new customers.

The uCommerce Store supports this out of the box by leveraging a micro format that Google and Bing recognizes and will display as part of the search result bring more “foot traffic” into the webshop.

Product Reviews

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uCommerce enables customers to add product reviews on individual products and submit them either directly to the site or, if enabled, for approval by store managers. Product reviews consists of a rating, a review headline, and a review body. If a customer is logged in the review can optionally be associated with that particular customer, which will make the reviews even more effective by letting you display information about the reviewer such as the first name. More on that later.

Because uCommerce supports multiple stores and languages each product review is associated with the store in which it was received, which makes it possible to display just the reviews received in a particular store.

Of course you’ll want to get as much review bang for your buck so more often than not reviews will be displayed from all stores, but you do have a choice.

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Comments and Helpful Reviews

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To further improve the value of having product reviews on a webshop you can open up for comments on existing reviews. The simplest form of commenting on a review is to indicate whether or not it was helpful, but the customer can go ahead and add a text comment as well to further explain her position or ask questions of the reviewer to get the conversation going.

Customer Information

As you can see in the previous screenshots information about the customer adding content is added to the review or comment. Customers are integrated with site members so you’re effectively free to add as much additional information to the customer profile and by extension the reviews themselves.

Optionally you can require the customer to log in before being able to comment as is the case on Amazon.com or just leave the floodgates open and let anyone comment if they provide an e-mail, which leads us to the next topic: Reporting Abuse.

Reporting Abuse

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The internet can be a downright nasty place with scammers and spammers in abundance. When a site opens up to user generated content it better be prepared to deal with spam. Fortunately uCommerce supports multiple kinds of protection. You can enable customers to report abuse and thus bring any unsuitable content to your attention for approval. Abuse can be reported for both reviews and individual commets.

By default content reported as spam is still displayed on the site to prevent users from removing content from the site until it can be reviewed and approved. If content is to be removed from the site immediately you can do so as well by modifying the filters for user generated content which is not to be displayed.

Approval Workflow

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Once user generated content is reported as abuse it will show up in the administration backend where store owners and managers approve or unapprove content.

The approval workflow is available both on the product level and more importantly on the store level as well to make sure that the process of approving reviews is as efficient as possible. Reviews can be removed at any time at the store manager’s discretion.

When viewing the “Pending Reviews” tab on each store only reviews and comments, which require attention are displayed. While everything is displayed on the product level.

Should you want to have all reviews and comments screened before allowing them onto your website, you can indicate so on each of the stores by ticking the “Product reviews require approval” check box.

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Automatic Workflow via Pipelines

As new ratings, reviews, and comments are received they are processed by uCommerce Pipelines, which enables automatic steps to be carried out for each piece of user generated content. Developers can extend these pipeline with custom logic to support custom requirements.

To give you an idea of what can be done using the pipelines here are some ideas:

You might want to check whether the customer has submitted a high number of reviews inside a short timeframe, which might indicate a spammer or you could notify store managers whenever new content requires attention.

This is also true whenever content is approved or unapproved in the backend. You might want to send an e-mail to the customer who submitted the review when it’s approved so they can see their handiwork on your site (thus bringing back the customer to the store) or you could post teasers from reviews on your Facebook fan page or to Twitter.

Please see uCommerce Pipelines Explained for detailed information on extending the Product Review and Product Review Comment pipelines.

Summary

Social commerce is many things to many people, but in the end a good place to start is by opening up for user generated content like ratings, reviews, and comments on your e-commerce site to increase conversion rates. Keep in mind that while user generated content will help sell more there are caveats associated with it. It’s important to ensure that only proper content makes it onto your site either by using an approval workflow like the one previously described, by requiring user login to be able to review, or by letting customers report abuse.

posted on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 11:15:03 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, 28 February 2011

To lead off the documentation on how to build the various parts of a uCommerce based e-commerce site I wanted to first describe what those components are. Having worked with a multitude of clients and projects in my career I’ve come to take many of these things for granted. As uCommerce grows in popularity I wanted to share some of these things in the hopes of making your next e-commerce project a bit smoother.

If you missed the first article in the series called Anatomy of an E-commerce Solution: Browse, which deals with product catalogs and product presentation.

Micro Conversions

imageToday e-commerce stores and webshops are all about enabling store owners to tell their story. While the CMS plays a hugely important role in this area, marketing is another story altogether. Marketing can be divided into internal- and external marketing.

Internal marketing is about setting up special offers for customers to further engage them in the buying process. Too often focus is solely on the the macro conversion, i.e. converting the user to a customer when in reality you need to focus equally on micro conversions, i.e. the act of convincing the user to perform minor conversions with the final goal of getting to the macro conversion.

The most common micro conversion is to offer the user to sign up for a newsletter so you might engage her later on  with direct e-mail communication, but there are many opportunities for micro conversions in webshop like getting them to add more demographic information to their profiles to provide better targeting for site ads and discount, getting them to download sales materiales, or get in touch with a sales representative via e-mail or live chat.

Site Ads

You want the user to navigate to interesting products, so why not throw up a banner advertising for the unique selling points of the products or offer up some additional information about the product like a PDF or video? Or how about letting your users compare products? Banners range from the run of the mill “Buy for x amount and get free shipping” to more advanced banner where you tell the customer exactly what they need to do to get the discount, “Buy for x amount more and get shipping shipping, i.e. the banner is aware of the customer context and shows how much more the customer must buy for the get the discount – a much more actionable banner than the first one.

Social Commerce with Customer Reviews and Ratings

imageOne of the most efficient marketing activities is to let customers do marketing on behalf of the store by enabling them to give ratings and perform full product reviews. Reviews and ratings made by actual people have a very high degree of credibility and many users turn to the reviews section of the product page to find out whether the product is right for them or not.

Indeed research today shows an increasing number of customers not willing to buy products without having consulted product reviews prior to the purchase.

Discounts

At the end of the day store owners need tools to convince the customer to convert. These tools might include incentives like reduced prices, over all discounts on the order itself, or voucher codes. Discounts come in many shapes and forms and are usually grouped in campaigns, which run for a certain amount of time after which they are removed from the site. In other words we’re dealing with temporary pricing and benefits.

Your most common types of discounts include “buy two for one”, “percentage off the order”, “amount off the order”, “volume discount”, “free shipping”, and more.

Vouchers and Gift Cards

Vouchers and gift cards are a certain type of discount which be paired with individual products, entire categories, or just the vanilla stand alone voucher. They enable store owners to pass out codes which can be used during checkout to receive a discount. Vouchers are a very effective means of converting the customer or getting repeat business from existing customers.

Vouchers are often used as a means of increasing the effectiveness of external marketing by including voucher codes with e-mail marketing campaigns, in print media, or on billboards.

Gift cards are basically a variation on the voucher with the main difference being that we’re not really dealing with a discount anymore as a customer will pay full price for the privilege of using the

Targeting

imageWith ads and discounts in place you’ll want to target customers with your message. For that purpose targeting is often used. Basically targeting will enable a store owner to configure who should be exposed to a particular message and determine when a discount should be triggered for a customer. Targeting often works by collecting information about the anonymous user on the site: Which products did she look at during the visit, which ones are displayed right now, what was the entry point into the store, any search terms which brought her to the store in the first place.

These are the basics, but often you’ll go a step farther and start building a profile about a given customer. By categorizing content and products the profile will be become more complete over time and as that happens targeting will become ever more precise to the point where the anonymous customer can be placed in a segment.

Once the customer logs in the profile will often be carried over and the store owner will know even more about the particular customer. A scary example of this in practice is Amazon, which it seems will pick up which products you look at and some days later will send a targeted e-mail to you offering a special on…. exactly the products you viewed.

Scary and brilliant at the same time. The mechanics are pretty straightforward when you think about it.

External Marketing

External marketing include all the activities which drive new traffic to your site including search engine optimization, search engine marketing, link building, social marketing, etc.. While support for some of these activities can be characterized as convenient others must be supported directly in the platform for your solution to rank highly. These include the ability to add custom meta data to your products, have pretty URLs laden with search terms, having product reviews formatted using one of the micro formats that Google recognizes to display as part of search listings.

Content is king in this matter. You can optimize all you want, but in the end getting incoming links to the store by having great content is what really counts. And it’s more interesting to create too.

Common Pitfalls

One surprise I’ve had far too often when shopping online or dealing with existing webshops is customers getting a discount by accident. By accident I mean the case where customers are never told about the discount until they’re in the check out flow and notice a lower price than what was listed. Store owners who do this sort of thing might as well toss money in the toilet – it’s more fun and would yield the same profit at the end of the day. The customer didn’t know about the discount, she would have bought the product anyway so why bother having a discount at all?

It’s crucial to remember that marketing is not about lowering pricings or giving great discounts it’s about getting the message out. If you don’t get the message out you might as well not bother.

Summary

I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what marketing in an online store or webshop entails, but these are some of the scenario that you’ll be expected to support in your e-commerce solution. Some of it is pretty srraightforward to build, other areas not so much. The area which will trip you up is typically the management pieces and targeting of content and discount. These are areas which either require very efficient workflows or complicated logic to achieve.

Check out the first article in the series called Anatomy of an E-commerce Soltion: Browse, which deals with product catalogs and product presentation.

posted on Monday, 28 February 2011 13:50:35 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Wednesday, 17 November 2010

To lead off the documentation on how to build the various pieces of a uCommerce based e-commerce site I wanted to first describe what those components are. Having worked with a multitude of clients and projects in my previous career as an e-commerce consultant I’ve come to take many of these things for granted, but as uCommerce grows in popularity I’ve come to realize that while many has a firm grasp of what an e-commerce project entails others are just starting out with e-commerce for the first time.

Most, if not all, e-commerce solutions consist of the same overall systems as a prelude to documenting how to actually build these systems using uCommerce I’ll outline what they are and which role they play.

This series will cover browse, marketing, checkout, customer service, and order processing.

First up the browse  portion of your webshop project.

Bulk of the Traffic

The customers coming to an e-commerce site start out not as a customer but as casual user of your site trying to find a suitable product for their needs. More than 90% of the traffic coming to your site will take place in the browse pieces with users looking through catalogs, categories, and products so you’ll want to make sure that this piece is as efficient as can be.

Tell the Story

The browse flow is all about telling the story about the products and convincing the user to become a customer. This is where integration between Umbraco and uCommerce comes into the picture because you can use the two to tell a very convincing story indeed using product pages, articles, blog entries, and rich media to grab the user’s interest and engage them to convert.

Shop in Shop

A scenario growing more common is to offer shop in shop functionality in e-commerce sites. It might be a company offering to run the platform for other companies offering each their own store with custom look and feel and even custom checkout flow. This is commonly found in B2B projects.

On the B2C side of things shop in shop is commonly used to give separate brands individual sites, which cater specifically to the target audience of that brand or for putting together micro branding sites for campaign activities. This is the e-commerce equivalent of throw-away marketing sites that you’ve probably done a lot of already.

You’ll also encounter the B2B-B2C combo from time to time. In this scenario the client needs to offer a sites which caters both their B2B customers as well as the B2C customers. Requirements vary wildly between a B2B and B2C site so a nice way to structure such a solution is to simply set up to stores, which might share some of the same products, but pricing will differ for individual customers and one site might require login where the other does not.

Catalog Structure

catalog-bookAn important part of putting together the browse flows is to decide on a catalog structure. Do you need to support international sites? Will they need to have different catalogs with a different range of products?

The nice thing about catalog structure is that you can easily change it or even leave the structure entirely in the hands of your client. What you can’t leave in the hands in your client though is the task of describing the data, which goes into the catalog system AKA establishing the taxonomy of your product catalogs.

One of the very first exercises that you’ll do is try to figure out what a customer means why their talking about their products. Do they need to operate with or without variants? Are they using a combination of products and product families? What information will they need to maintain on the product level? Brand? Supplier? MSRP?

Key Pieces of Information

These are your key pieces of information that as a minimum you absolutely want to display as part of the browse flow: Product name, high resolution images, product description, price, and inventory status.

A nice rule of thumb is that whenever you display any of this information you need to remember to include a “Add to cart” button. After all that’s what we’re here for, right?

Product Listings

7productYou’ll spend most of your time creating various product listings and taking special care that categories are presented in the best way possible.

The simplest product listings are the ones which simply pull products based on the contents of a category, but that’s seldom enough as we discuss in the next paragraph.

Store owners spend a lot for time gathering product data and getting that data shaped into product information ready to present to potential customers. That’s why you’ll spend time creating custom listings based on the information available on each product, e.g. a custom listing which shows the latest additions in the store, all products on sale. This will help automate some aspects of the maintenance in the store.

Catalogs and categories are a great foundation on which to build and you’ll get a lot of mileage out of them if you use them creatively, but if you truly want to make your client happy you need to pay special attention to the automated listings.

Do keep in mind the cardinal rule: Whenever you display product information remember to also display an “Add to cart” button.

The Product Page

I keep wondering why people pay so much attention to the design of “The Front Page”? It seems that in many cases we’re locked into conventional thinking when it comes to web design. “The Front Page is the first page we see, so why not give it special attention?”. It turns out that on the web this is not the case. The front page will actually receive only a tiny fraction of your overall website traffic as close to 80% of incoming traffic will be organic traffic coming from search engines like Google and Bing.

With this in mind every page turns into a landing page on your site in which case it makes sense to focus on the pages that you have a lot off: Product pages.

When creating your product page template you’ll want to keep in mind that this might be the first page that the customer sees thus you can add information which pertains to the overall value of shopping with your online store. Free shipping on everything? 30 return policy? Great, make sure that you say so on every page including the product page, because the customer might be coming here for the very first time.

Of course you need to present the customer with the actual product information as well. Keep in mind the key pieces of information and be aware of the fact that different products might require different presentation. Some products are visually oriented such as jewelry while others are more specification driven like TVs.

If you’re designing a site which will sell a very broad range of products you might need different templates to display product differently based on which type they are. One template might emphasize images and provide a gallery while another might bring the facts out a the primary selling point.

Guided Sales Funnels

Product listings will usually require custom filters for narrowing down the contents of a particular category or specialized category browse flows to enable the user to drill into the catalog by designing a browse flow which tries to anticipate the needs of the customer, e.g. the customer is looking for a shirt, so we might ask her a series of questions which will result in an ever narrower product listing:

Q: “What type of clothing are you looking for?”, A: “Women’s shirts”

Q: “To which occasion will you be wearing the shirt?”, A: “Casual home wear”

Q: “Will you be wearing the shirt inside or outside?”, A: “Outside"

The result might be that we’re displaying women’s fleeces.

The upside of a guided sales flow is that the customer is more likely to convert if we can accurately predict the circumstances which brought her to the site in the first place. The downside is that we might miss the mark completely in which case conversion is unlikely. The solution is simple: Build more guides sales flow and start asking questions at a higher level or be sure to try and grab her interest by displaying other products, which might grab her attention. That where related products come into play.

Related Products

The most common types of related products are your classic upsell-, cross sell-, and others bought relations, but other types of relations might be put into place to further enhance the probability of the macro conversion.

Once a user has decided on a product you’ll want to try and upsell them on an even better version. If you’re anything like me you’ve found yourself looking at one type of TV only to find yourself carrying home a more expensive model either due to a salesman doing his job a tad too well or in some cases because you upsold yourself, in any case that’s the upsell grab the users attention with one product and get them to choose a more expensive version.

You’ll be familiar with the cross sell as well. Sticking with the TV again the cross sell happens when you’re convinced that you need an HDMI cable, batteries for the remote, etc.. With that in place the upsell starts all over on the HDMI cable and the batteries. Round and round it goes.

As with automated product listings “others bought” relations are usually generated automatically, but not always. Sometimes you can get away with maintaining those types of relations manually if the store owner want a high degree of control. Keep in mind that whenever you’re dealing with automatically suggested data users usually want to be able to override the information.

There are a lot of opportunities to use related products for creating a better customer experience and optimizing conversion rates. Take for example a special set of products and display them during checkout or even after on the confirmation page or as part of the order confirmation e-mail.

Search

Search-Engine-MarketingSearch is an area becoming increasingly important to e-commerce sites. The options alone for doing search on an e-commerce site tell us as much. Customers expect to get Google-like results from the search engine on your e-commerce site. A feat which is very difficult to achieve even using something like the Google Search Appliance. The fact is that Google has vast quantities of statistic data available, which can’t be said for a single e-commerce site.

What we do have at our disposal is specific knowledge about the customers expected to come to the site. We can leverage that to adapt the site to the expected needs of the customer like what was described in the previous section dealing with Guided Sales. It also applies to search though as we’re able to create more specialized search experiences as we’ll dive into next.

You’ll usually see the simple- and advanced search. Simple search being your ubiquitous search box at the top of the site. Search suggestions might be a part of this, which enables customers to see possible search results as they type in their query.

What can trip you up is the advanced search as it might vary wildly from site to site. A site like ASOS.com is built with advanced search front and center powering the entire browse flow. More commonly though advanced search will present a bunch of options for the user to fill in and get more refined search results on. This is where your knowledge about the customers coming to the site comes into play as you’ll need to tailor these options to the expected needs of the customers.

Another variation on search is your specification search, which narrows down products in the store by searching for individual specifications one at a time, e.g. Car, Make, Year.

Keep the Customer in the Know

During the entire process it’s important to keep the customer up to date as to what’s going on. Customers these days are fickle and might leave your site for the slightest of reasons so you’ll want to keep their confidence high at all times by presenting them with the information they need when they need it.

Questions commonly posed by potential customers include, “what will shipping cost me?”, “can I have this item quickly?”, “what’s the difference between these similar items?”, “what’s my warranty like if I choose to buy?”, “what’s the return policy like?”.

Wrap Up

That’s it for an overview of the browse piece of an e-commerce site. As you can see browse is much, much more than simply slapping the products from a category onto the screen. The browse flow requires finesse to grab the customer’s attention and even more so to engage the customer further to convert. In your browse flow keep the micro conversion in mind as this persuades the customer to do the macro conversion over time.

When specifying an e-commerce project you’ll want to take special care with areas like advanced search, guided sales funnels, and any dynamic listings requested by the customer as these traditionally will cause you an extra bit of effort, but will pay off handsomely both for you and your client.

posted on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 10:57:31 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Friday, 25 April 2008

img_ecommerce With an e-commerce solution online payment naturally follows. Recently I've been involved in a couple of e-comm projects which needed integration with a payment provider.

In the good old days integration was a no-brainer you'd simply go with the API, HTTP-RPC or web services, for the nicest solution design-wise and development-wise as well.

Last year though VISA/MasterCard introduced the PCI compliance requirement for businesses handled credit card information. A move which in theory was good in that it limits the number of businesses which handle the information and by extension limits the chance for leaked information via security breach.

Now I write in theory because what happened is the VISA/MasterCard went a bit too far in their requirements. Basically if a credit card number is ever entered on your server you need to be PCI compliant; while this make sense for a payment provider for a store it means that you can't use the APIs as you'd normally would instead you have to use a payment window provided by the service provider.

If you want to handle credit card information at all you have to submit your system for quarterly reviews by external security consultants and your system will have to comply to the same standards as the payment providers themselves adding a yearly running cost of $5,000 - $30,000. Did I mention that VISA/MasterCard is bumping up the requirements on a quarterly basis? All in all this adds up to the conclusion that not handling credit card information on your servers at all is becoming the default choice and by extension the payment window becomes the default choice.

The payment window adds another layer of complexity to your solution in that you have to redirect your customer completely over to the payment provider site to process the credit card after which point the customer returns to your site to view a confirmation if everything went well. My main complaint about the payment window is the lack of contiguity for the customer. A great many sites here in Denmark use the payment windows with more or less success in that department.

Payment-Windows-Redirection-Flow

With the payment window being the default choice for now it's important that Danish online e-tailers figure out how to integrate the window in the most user friendly manner. Not doing so signals lack of professionalism in the best case and in the worst case they could loose customers because they are confused by a completely different look and feel in the most critical part of the checkout flow: Payment.

A company which does this extremely well is Trollbeads.com. Their integration with the payment window is seamless, in fact when I shopped there a couple of weeks ago I didn't even notice that I was redirected to their payment provider for processing my payment information. I should notice I do this for living :)

Take a look at the following screenshots to see what I mean:

Trollbeads-basket

(Basket)

Trollbeads-checkout-DIBS

(Checkout)

That's how it should be done and I didn't even do it myself :)

posted on Friday, 25 April 2008 15:14:53 (Romance Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback