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e-commerce best practices
  The Sections  
  Search Engine

Notify Me

Unit/Item Page

Shopping Cart

Account Registration

Recommendation Mechanisms

Address Book

Reminder Service

Helpful Tips for Using the Site
  The List  

Recently for work we prepared a document on what we consider to be the best examples of e-commerce feature design on the Web. We've been quite successful in giving away information as a method to learn even more, so here we present our review. This content is Copyright 1998 phoenix-pop productions.

If you know of things we should add, please
email me.

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Search Engine
It's amazing how poorly designed some search engines are, considering that it's the lifeline for most e-commerce. Here are some places that have clearly put thought into their development.

Image-Based Search
Photodisc and Digital Stock have extremely impressive search mechanisms. It's clear a lot of thought went into cataloguing each image. Such care would be helpful for any search engine.


Digital Stock

Not an image-based search per se, but it's search results return impressively small, yet still clear, thumbnails.

Top Matches
Calls out what are believed to be the 'most relevant' choices first.


Considering databases have sorted since the dawn of time, it's surprising search engines have done so only recently.

Barnes and Noble
Many means of sorting.

Sort by Title or Author.

Sort by any of the nutritional information, or price.

Guided Search
Guides the user, often in a wizard or through explicit instructions, on how to define the schema for a search query.

Flower Shoppe's Assistant
Three-step process.

Find Similar
When you don't know exactly what you're looking for, if you do find something you like, you want to know if there are more around like it.

Not currently working. But the greyed out interface looks interesting. (To see it, click on a picture after searching, then click "find visual matches").

Digital Stock
It's great that they have the feature, but the results are terribly scattershot.

Features "find other documents like this one." While it returns even more results, it is useful in that it sorts them in order of relevance.

Refine Search
Return too many results? Allow users to quickly and easily refine the search.

Digital Stock
Allows you to check-off the pertinent keywords.

Allows you to add search terms to further narrow returns.

A broad search will return (along with the results) a list of checkable keywords you can use to amend your search.

Notify Me If New Material Match My Schema
You don't want to keep conducting the same search week after week just to see if something new fits what you want. Some sites will email you if new products come in that match the search you made.

Barnes and Noble's E-Nouncements
You'll see it after you perform a search. A simple text-box to put your email address in.

For every artist, you can asked to be notified if they release new material.

Unit/Item Page
The presentation of product is all-important, and its amazing how few do a good job.

The Gap
Solid layout, good photo, substantial information, and the ability to directly choose color, size, and quantity before placing in the basket.

Barnes And Noble
Also well laid-out, good thumbnail, detailed information for those who want it.

Each image is well presented, with a list of applicable keywords.

Items feature a lot of detail, presented in order of presumed interest, so it's not overwhelming.

Shopping Cart
(obviously, you must put stuff in the cart to see the functions)

Persistent Carts

A frame keeps the shopping cart always on the screen.

A rip off of NetGrocer's interface. Not as tightly done.

Cart Icon Labelling
You are alerted if items are in your cart.

Music Boulevard
When you've placed something in the cart, the icon changes to reflect that. As you move through the site, you know you've got something to purchase.

Columbia House
A frame persists which updates with latest item placed in cart, as well as the number of items in cart.

Wish List/Card Rack
Allows you to store items without placing them in the shopping cart, so that you don't think you'll have to buy it. Good way to bookmark a lot of items and compare in one place. You usually have to register and login to use it.

The first place I saw a Wish List, it's unfortunately used only to bookmark info--you can't order from your wish list. You'll have to scroll down to see it (another problem with the Wish List).

Eddie Bauer
Similar to Tunes--just a bookmark.

CDNow's Lunchbox
Find it under "Shopping Account." Allows you to place items into your shopping cart from the lunchbox. Unfortunately, the ugly line-item appearance is unappealing.

Photodisc's Lightbox
Allows you to place photos in a lightbox for comparison. Extremely easy to move to shopping cart. Also easy to build multiple lightboxes.

Multiple Ship-tos
You may want to send one item to many different people.

American Greetings
A rather tedious process, but it's nice that they have the feature. Unfortunately, the stored addresses don't seem to work.

Outpost Network
Create a "group" in your address book, you can then send mail to the entire group very easily, or, using checkboxes, send mail to many individuals. Well done.

Contextualized/Wizard Process
The "order tunnel" can be a long and windy road. It's nice to provide a context so that users know how many more screens they'll need to fill out, and when, exactly, the money changes hand.

Barnes and Noble
The graphic at the top of the shopping cart lets you know where you are and where you're going.

Similar to Barnes and Noble's.

Uses as a simple numbering method (Step x of 3), that's not as descriptive as the other two, but still nice.


The Gap
When I put pleated khakis in my basket, I was told 'your pleated khakis would go look great with this poplin shirt."

Garden.com's Wheelbarrow
The cross-sell wasn't item-related like the gap, but in the shopping basket, it did point to another item (which I clicked on because it looked interesting).

Account Registration
Considering how important it is for sites to have people register, it's amazing how arduous the process is at many of them. Here are some that have a clue.

Registration happens on one page, and the little call-outs do a good job telling the user why they are filling in certain information.

A step-by-step wizard like process that makes sure the user knows how much is asked of them.

Music Boulevard
Similar to CDNow's, but a bit more flashy and engaging.

Clean, simple, straightforward, well laid-out.

Office Depot
Like Expedia, well-laid out, with some personality.

Recommendation Mechanisms
Don't know what you want? Let us suggest things, or help you browse the site.

Amazon's BookMatcher
Their collaborative filtering engine. It wasn't too much of a pain to input my tastes, and it actually returned relevant results. (Barnes and Noble's, on the other hand, was a nightmare to configure).

Amazon's MoodMatcher
Much more content-driven, this will suggest books that match a certain mood or location (beach reading, etc.)

Amazon's People Who Bought This Book Also Bought...
One of my favorite recommendation mechanisms. On every product page, you see other items purchased by people who purchased the item you're looking at. A great way to encourage browsing.

Music Boulevard's Store Pulse
These guys show you the latest items to be purchased. It fulfills one's voyeuristic tendencies. Who doesn't peek at the selections other people have made, while in line at the store?

Reel.com's Movie Matches
Suggests movies you might like, based on knowing what you do like. Not a collaborative filtering engine--the movie matches are handmade by their Movie Experts. A fabulous, terribly labor-intensive, feature.

Excite's CarMatch
Personalogic's DecisionMaker engine, guides people, through a series of questions, to finding the car that is "just right" for them.

Address Book (must have an account to use)
Remembers addresses that you input, and allows for easy recall of those addresses.

Outpost Network
The most feature-rich address book we saw. Allows you to attach reminders to addressees. Also, you can create "groups" in your address book, so mass-mailings are made easier.

The Gap
The Gap's "organizer" service (including address book and reminders) is clean and works well.

Reminder Service
Need help remembering when to send a gift? These services make sure you don't forget that all-important birthday present to your uncle.

Outpost Network
As mentioned above, these guys are smart by tying reminders into the address book. They also have a robust reminder service separate from addresses, with default holidays, etc.

Hallmark Connections
Interesting because of the heavy calendar-based design. Amazing that it doesn't flag holidays, but still worth looking at.

Helpful Tips For Using Site
Little pointers, suggestions, for getting optimal use of the site.

Outpost Network's Order Page
When you order, there are "Helpful Tips" on the left side, assisting the user through the process.

Wow! You made it to the end. Again, if you have any suggestions for stuff to add, please email me!