Changing consumer demographics foreshadows rise in e-commerce

Individual characteristic and demographic changes among consumers have been occurring across multiple markets throughout the past couple of years. The bigger picture forecasts a future in which e-commerce is expected to grow at continuous rates.

Location has long played a role in a consumer’s decision to participate in e-commerce or shop online. When divided into two main categories, urban and rural, surveys conducted by Retail Dive found 4 percent of rural shoppers shop exclusively online compared to 7 percent of urban shoppers. When asked why they prefer to shop in stores, rural shoppers were found to value seeing, touching, feeling and trying out items at a margin of 9 percent greater than urban shoppers. In 2017, 55 percent of the total global population is expected to live in an urban setting, according to Ad Age. Urban population growth has been steadily increasing since 2007, when it first surpassed rural population.

Americans shop differently depending on where they live. For instance, although they have more physical stores nearby, shoppers in metropolitan areas spend more online annually ($853) than suburban shoppers ($768) or those in rural areas ($684). They also spend the most time shopping online out of the three groups. —BigCommerce, 2017

Mobile has continually been stealing market share from desktop or laptop computers. Despite this growth, the mobile experience still hasn’t been to par compared to traditional web browsing methods, and mobile hasn’t translated into as high of conversion rates. According to Smart Insights, mobile devices account for 42 percent of all sessions but only provides 21 percent of the market revenue for online shopping. Mobile e-commerce has been on the rise though,acquiring its own branding (m-commerce)and is expected to reach $284 billion in total revenue by 2020. At the current state of the market, consumers may not overwhelmingly prefer to use mobile devices to shop, but they’ve evolved to become powerful research tools for online shopping decisions.

 

Dirxion offers tools for businesses to capitalize on the shifting trends and growth in the e-commerce market via online catalog services. Dirxion online catalogs are extremely versatile and optimized with HTML5 to ensure cross-platform and multi-browser performance standards are met. Dirxion online catalogs can be integrated into existing e-commerce platforms and live directly on a company’s website to ensure a seamless, optimized shopping experience for customers.

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Polygon linking increases interactive nature of online catalogs

Online shoppers have become accustomed to an interactive and convenient shopping experience. Design has since become a foundation of online catalogs, reflecting the fluid and integrated nature of e-commerce. Dirxion implemented polygon linking to change how consumers interacted with online catalogs and the ways in which Dirxion customers can deliver their product.

Polygon linking allows Dirxion customers to have specific images outlined and linked so consumers can interact with the image in the same way they would with a standard product link. Once clicked, they deliver customers to the corresponding product information page on the company’s e-commerce website via Quick Views, iFrames, custom detail dialogues or simply a newly-opened browser tab. In doing so, Dirxion turns the focal drivers of catalog pages — product images — into places for customer interaction.

Moose Jaw Online Catalog

 

The links can be customized to match brand identity as well. For some catalogs, polygon linked images will flash with color momentarily upon loading a page to let viewers know which images are linked. Customers can also choose not to have their polygon linked images flash at all. The option is more common for businesses with a modern, minimal design. Customers can also choose to have link association implemented into their catalogs. Link association highlights a corresponding product description on the page if a consumer hovers their cursor over a polygon linked image, which can also be customized or left out upon customer request.

Dirxion has long been the leading industry innovator for online catalogs. Being the first digital publisher to switch to HTML5 optimization, Dirxion set the standard for the online catalogs experience. Other Dirxion features, such as Quick Views, the Bookshelf and, most recently, the Minimal UI, continues Dirxion’s tradition of industry revolution and delivering a personalized, on-brand online catalogs experience.

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Principles of website usability translate to online catalogs

The goals of websites have now gone beyond plain functionality in the current day and age of the Internet. The standard for websites is now based on a user-centered design, focusing on ease-of-use in order to build a website that’s both efficient and intuitive. Web users now expect a seamless, easy-to-use browsing experience that delivers on a consistent basis.

The Daily Egg, the blog and online content website for Crazy Egg, outlines the biggest factors associated with website usability. One of these factors is the accessibility of a website. Strong hosting with attention to mobile responsiveness lowers the risk of web users running into error messages or failing to load on mobile devices due to slow connections. According to studies compiled by HubSpot, 64 percent of consumers expect web pages to load in four seconds or less on their smartphones. With desktops, 47 percent of consumers expect webpages to load in two seconds or less.

Load Times

 

The article also calls upon the importance of a clutter-free browsing experience with the least amount of distractions possible. These distractions could steer the consumer away from their initial goal. Design simplicity, familiarity, consistency, guidance, direct feedback and good information architecture resonate the strongest with customers and often serve as the foundation of their judgement of a website. According to bitcatcha, a web hosting research company, consumers directly associate fast websites with efficiency, trust and confidence.

Website performance can also affect SEO. Google has recently prioritized speed and announced in 2010 they will take speed into consideration when deciding which websites rank highest on their search results. User experience, conversion rates, sales and SEO can all be positively or negatively influenced depending on the speed of your website.

You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.
Google Webmaster Central Blog, 2010

Dirxion online catalogs are built with both the user experience and performance in mind. Customers have a high degree of customization available, which can vary from a minimal UI (like with American Giant), or a busier and flushed out design (like with MooseJaw). Because Dirxion online catalogs are optimized with HTML5, their performance won’t falter on mobile devices and across multiple browsers. Dirxion’s online catalogs are all hosted at a data center in St. Louis. However, proxy servers located across the country ensure all catalogs perform equally no matter the location of the user. Pages load quickly, interactive links are responsive and Quick Views appear in seconds.

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Online and print catalogs combine to boost online sales

The print catalog market has been slowly recovering following its decline during the recession. As reported in The New York Times, the number of catalogs mailed in 2013 increased to 11.9 billion, 60 percent of what it was in 2007. Many businesses are discovering increasing care in print catalogs has resulted in a boost in online sales. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company Bonobos discovered 20 percent of their new customers place orders after receiving a catalog. Customers who received the catalog also spent 1.5 times longer shopping as opposed to customers who didn’t.

Catalog Comeback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The science behind print catalogs better explains their effectiveness as a marketing tool. As reported by Elizabeth Holmes of The Wall Street Journal, print catalogs deliver a complete brand message. As opposed to catalogs in previous years, which were full of all the products a company offers, modern catalogs aim for more of an on-branded, visually inspirational experience. Patagonia catalogs, for instance, have opted to focus on long-form marketing materials and commissioned essays. Some of their catalogs are themed and have hardly any products featured.

Targeting and versioning, the industry term for making different versions of a catalog for specific customer segments, have become easier thanks to massive amounts of data collected by e-commerce websites. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies can look at frequent visitor data and cross-reference industry databases containing information of millions of households. In doing so, they can send smaller sized catalogs to customers who are more active on the website as a method of multi-channel marketing, inspiring customer loyalty.

The developments and advancements of the print catalog industry have translated to the online catalog market. Dirxion customer Restoration Hardware’s Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman is quoted in the Harvard Business Review saying, “We believe that what we are doing is moving beyond an intellectual connection to an emotional one. We are beginning to express those things we deeply believe in a way you can see it.” Product markets have become more alike and the Internet allows customers to access those products at a faster rate. It’s increasingly more important for a brand to differentiate itself in as many ways as it can. Dirxion online catalogs provide businesses with another avenue in their multi-channel marketing strategy that can meld the visually compelling aspects of a print catalog with the interactive and highly-mobile elements of online content.

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Online catalogs give businesses a way to meet generational needs

E-commerce creates a unique scenario for many businesses. The rise of the Internet in the early 1990s has divided generations and given way to various expectations, values and skepticism with regards to the online shopping experience.

The Pew Research Center discovered 77 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones. But when divided by age group, the data shows a much clearer picture. For instance, 92 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone, compared to 74 percent when looking at U.S. adults ages 50-64. How U.S. adults interact with those devices, especially with regards to e-commerce, can help explain shopping trends among different generations.

E-commerce is at a crossroads where consumers who grew up in the Internet era and those who were introduced to it in a later stage in their lives share a space within the online market. Studies conducted by BigCommerce, an e-commerce software development company, have revealed online shopping and e-commerce takes up varying degrees of shopping per generation. For instance, Millennials do 67 percent of their shopping online whereas Baby Boomers do 59 percent of their shopping in-store.

Despite this, across all generations, certain trends remain consistent. Large retailers make up a greater majority of the places U.S. adults shop (73 percent on average). What each generation considers “influential” in deciding to make online purchases follows the same pattern. With a commanding average of 71 percent, reviews have the biggest influence on a consumer’s decision to purchase, followed by friends and family and then advertisements.

In order to capture the attention and trust of customers across all generations, businesses have realized a strong and trustworthy online presence is key to meeting the values and expectations of each customer. Dirxion’s online catalog services provide a strong complimentary product to any business’s e-commerce site. Capitalizing on a familiar layout and easy-to-use format, the online catalogs create a hassle-free experience for any Generation X or Baby Boomer customer. Similarly, the fast-loading, integrated shopping technology meets the needs of Millennial shoppers.

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Consumers shifting toward mobile e-commerce

Mobile e-commerce has grown at such a fast rate that economists have given the specific brand of online shopping its own name: m-commerce. According to an article recently published by Forbes, m-commerce spending is projected to reach $284 billion by 2020 and account for nearly half of all e-commerce.

Because of this boom, however, m-commerce has encountered hardware and software limitations that can potentially break the shopping experience for consumers. As reported by Business Insider, in Q2 2015, U.S. adults spent 59 percent of their time on mobile devices but spent only 15 percent of their money there. The mobile conversion rate for U.S. citizens shopping on their smartphones in Q4 2016 was 1.55 percent as compared to 4.14 percent for desktops. Smaller screen sizes can make for a frustrating shopping experience, sometimes getting in the way of browsing or entering payment options. Many companies don’t have optimized websites for mobile viewing.

Conversion rates and time spent on a particular device don’t necessarily paint the entire picture though. According to comScore, items bought online are “weighted” differently depending on the means of purchase. For instance, 57 percent of items categorized as “Toys & Hobbies” are bought on a mobile device, and 89 percent of “Consumer Electronics” are bought on a desktop (as of Q1 2017).

Digital Commerce Spending

 

Despite this division of the m-commerce market, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to use dedicated apps as opposed to using a browser on their mobile devices. According to Flurry Analytics, a mobile apps analytics tool owned by Yahoo!, 90 percent of the time a person spends on their phone is within apps. Companies like Amazon have taken the lead on m-commerce app development. Amazon revealed 72 percent of their customers shopped using a mobile device during the holiday season, a 56 percent growth worldwide. Amazon has taken into account the cramped nature of some smartphones by developing augmented reality features and allowing customers to shop via Alexa-based hardware.

To meet the growing demand of the m-commerce market, Dirxion offers custom app development for the Google Play and iTunes stores. Within the apps, customers are able to view a business’s online catalogs or download them for offline viewing. The catalogs, when accessed while the phone is online, are completely interactive and optimized with HTML5. Dirxion can also integrate online catalogs into an existing application. Such is the case for Dirxion customer Ulta Beauty, where eflyers published with Dirxion have been integrated into their shopping app to create a streamlined and seamless buying experience.
Ulta Beauty App

 

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New minimal user interface offers online catalogs a clean look

Online catalogs publishers looking for a simple but complete interface can switch to Dirxion’s new minimal UI. The interface design stores its tools and features within a menu that opens and closes with one click.

The interface was designed with online catalogs in mind, in order to give greater focus on the catalog pages and the product images published within. Publishers with an emphasis on image quality and art direction have shown the greatest interest.

A recent example is retail apparel company American Giant. Its online catalog interface uses Dirxion’s new minimal UI with a menu in the bottom-left corner. When the online catalog loads, only the catalog pages, side-panel page arrows and bottom-left menu can be seen. Products throughout the catalog are linked to American Giant’s corresponding e-commerce pages, in order to drive sales.

American Giant Online Catalog

 

Once the menu button is clicked, American Giant’s custom interface design is displayed. They chose to have a toolbar set at the bottom of the interface — for basic navigation features, a high-res thumbnail strip and a link out to the consumer’s shopping cart. American Giant also has three tabs on the left panel of the interface, where users can access previous catalogs, a table of contents and search results that can be requested through the search field below.

Dirxion is currently showcasing its minimal UI to new and existing customers to accommodate a variety of preferences. In addition to the minimal UI, customers can explore other custom designs, like Restoration Hardware’s modern look, Brady Corporation’s content library or Uline’s toolbar header.

Dirxion’s goal is to provide unique branding and interface design to all of its customers, through the manipulation and addition of templates that are built with HTML5, CSS and Javascript. No two online catalogs interfaces should look exactly the same.

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Browser market shares show online catalogs where compatibility matters

In a world of devices that often creates a digital bubble, wherein users grow comfortable with specific browsers and operating systems, two specific players are managing to separate themselves from the pack. Chrome continues to grow its web browser market share (now 61.2 percent), and Android is even more dominant among mobile operating systems than before (65.19 percent).

Web developers pay close attention to market shares among browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions, in order to make the right compromises when two competing platforms can’t both be optimized. The browsers and operating systems come out with frequent updates that can change some of the compatibility that had already been established. This means features in web products like online catalogs might now need tweaking to function properly.

These discrepancies are often referred to as “bugs,” which can be easily created by browser and operating system updates. For the most part, however, a strong backbone to the developer code and the use of widely-accepted development language, like HTML5, can mitigate a majority of these potential problems. Developers who still rely on software like Adobe Flash run the risk of stumbling into significant problems with these updates because the code isn’t as flexible and browsers are not as concerned with its functionality.

Nonetheless, choices must be made and lines must be drawn as to where a web product claims it is compatible and where it is not. Dirxion’s online catalogs, for example, focus on the four major web browsers — Chrome (61.2 percent), Safari (15.9), Internet Explorer & Edge (8.2) and Firefox (6.3). This means that its product testing and QA teams check out the online publications performance and corresponding features on a variety of versions of Chrome, Safari, IE/Edge and Firefox. Dirxion’s products could still work fine on Opera (2.9 percent); however, that won’t be guaranteed.

Browser Market Share

 

A similar methodology is given to mobile operating systems. With Android and iOS comprising 96.25 percent of the market share, and Windows Phone only holding 1.59 percent, Dirxion’s QA team gets their hands on a variety of Apple and Samsung devices but does not test on Microsoft phones. Similar strategies are used by web developers throughout the Internet.

Operating System Market Share

 

Dirxion uses a mixture of HTML5, Javascript and CSS to create its online publications. This is the result of a full move away from Adobe Flash about five years ago. There will be some concern though for online publications companies who still rely on Flash for their browser versions. Chrome, whose market share is a significant majority, seems to be on the brink of disabling Flash entirely. This will break Flash-based online publications and leave HTML5 as the primary solution to Flash’s problems.

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Online catalogs face loading problems with Adobe Flash, web browsers

It is no secret in the Internet world that Adobe Flash Player is slowly dying and that inevitably HTML5 will take over. The web browser companies continue to create compatibility issues for Flash that only seem to get worse. For online catalogs that are based in Flash, this results in users receiving error messages when trying to load the online publication.

Only recently have the browser companies become more aggressive in their stand against Flash, as pointed out by CSO (a research group that tackles online security topics). They point out that Internet Explorer is going to be the only major web browser with Flash enabled, now that Microsoft is taking some initiative in a recent update to Windows 10 that automatically blocks Flash content. The update makes Edge another browser that can be considered an enemy to Flash, with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox as the most problematic browsers for Adobe’s platform.

The article continues to point out HTML5 as the successor to Flash’s streaming throne, considering the faith Chrome, Firefox and Apple Safari has placed in the newer technology.


Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge require users to download Adobe Flash plugins, creating errors messages for many online catalog users.


Such changes began taking place for good reason. About two years ago, Firefox led the way by blocking Flash content after serious security problems arose from the platform. HTML5 grew in popularity as a supplementary option that had mobile capabilities; on the other hand, Flash was linked to a few critical online security breaches. It was not an ideal trade-off for Adobe.

There was already dissent toward Flash for not working on mobile devices — a defining blow delivered by Apple when its iPhone’s began growing in popularity — and when security vulnerabilities began to crop up, there seemed little reason to trust Flash. Last year, IAB guideline changes also set in motion the transition away from Flash, helping give reason to Google to no longer accept Flash-based ads.

The result for some online catalogs is a troubling scenario, the possibility that users aren’t receiving any content at all but rather a loading error and security risk message.

As the leader in online publications, Dirxion began a migration away from Flash toward HTML5 about seven years ago. Dirxion released its first HTML5-based product in 2012. Today, the online catalog is one of Dirxion’s most-reliable platforms, using HTML5, Javascript and CSS to provide a custom design for the user’s shopping experience.

Needless to say, these online catalogs load on all browsers and mobile devices. Dirxion also provides frequent product updates to support changes to browsers and operating systems.

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An online catalog suited for a global economy

Many B2B catalog providers do business in a variety of countries, cultures and languages. Without the translated catalog, a lot of business could be lost in translation. That is why we think it is important to support a wide selection of languages in our online catalog product.

Among our customers, one of the best practices is use a toggle to switch between languages supported by the print catalog. Industrial metalworking manufacturer, Kennametal, is a prime example, whose online catalog supports 14 languages under one URL. Canadian industrial tools supplier Acklands Grainger has a drop-down toggle to choose between English or French.

If separate URLs are more desirable, consider YP eDirectories. They needed an option for two languages, French and English, to better serve customers in French or English speaking provinces. Instead of using one landing page with a multi-lingual drop down, they chose to use two different links/landing pages and split their directories using that technique.

A third option was used by KohlerPeople where we created a landing page with their six languages under each cover. It works well because the user knows which language they want and they can easily select it.

In a global economy that requires us to do business in multiple languages, these options are important. The primary goal of the online catalog is to expand the reach of your publications, and ignoring foreign languages is a sure-fire way not to do that.