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Chapter 5. Anatomy of the e-Shelf

With the race to get onto the Internet, most businesses focused on getting there as quickly as possible. They staked claims to cyber-assets by creating online stores. The Internet was a new creation and, in their haste, many stores took a “Frankenstein” approach. They pieced the store together with whatever parts were readily available—whether they fit seamlessly together or not—and most often they did not.

Some of these parts, electronic product catalogs, were related to structure and were developed in a variety of database-driven architectures. The online store that relies solely on a database-driven product database is weak and cannot withstand competition or support customer needs. These early electronic catalogs displayed long lists of products to online customers. They lacked intuitive organization and structure.

Other parts related to form and came from old methodologies and techniques associated with traditional advertising and catalog page layouts. While these forms work well in a printed format, they didn't translate effectively online.

A strong online store is dependent on having the right elements, which consist of structure, form, and navigation. It is also dependent on having the right product mix, sufficient customer research, intuitive navigation and ease of use, and a good delivery and fulfillment mechanism. Information must be adequate and appropriate. The basic elements of the store—the web pages—must fluidly guide the customers to desired destinations.

Customer-centered web design reverses the typical development order for websites. The typical method is to take an existing product database and build a user interface on top of it to accommodate the existing category structure. The customer-centered method starts with the user interface and builds the database structures and content to accommodate the page layout and content requirements of the customer and merchant. The user interface requires specific online merchandising techniques to influence effectiveness and design simplicity, which are discussed later in this chapter.

Shopping is a specialized form of navigation, and shoppers actually develop unconscious, ingrained purchasing patterns and shopping expectations that they attempt to transfer to this new shopping medium. The online store offers new convenience for customers by providing ordering capabilities at home, at work and in rural areas where physical retailing is sparse. The system structure and form, however, still need to reflect certain standards on which the consumer relies.


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