For organizations looking to combine the 3Cs of content, community and commerce into one all-encompassing ecommerce website, Magento offers an exceptional platform. Through its open source architecture, experienced programmers can build upon existing architecture to include performance-enhancing widgets that incorporate today’s hottest ecommerce trends, thus providing online consumers with the functionality they demand.

Following are examples of the latest best practices being used on ecommerce sites today. With the right amount of expertise and testing, any of these features could be integrated into the Magento platform to enhance its appeal to consumers and to create more innovative experiences.

Social Network Integration

Social networks and blogs are now the fourth most popular online activity, and member communities are visited by 67% of the global online population. This growing popularity of social networks offers a variety of opportunities to enhance your product offerings with social features. One way to do this is by associating products with blogs, and Twitter and Facebook feeds, so that customers can easily get relevant content and insight when shopping. Other examples of social-network integration include:

    • Facebook Connect Social Shopping, a Magento extension developed by Optaros, enables Facebook users to receive product recommendations from friends or to ask friends for advice on certain purchases.
    • Charlotte Russe’s Shop By Outfit Facebook widget, which allows Facebook members to add items to their bag directly on Facebook; then, when the customer wants to checkout, they are directed back to the Charlotte Russe website.

Advanced Search Capability

Search bars that show both products and related content can guarantee customers find the information they are looking for, no matter where they are in the buying process.

Shop-able Content

Another best practice is enabling people to shop outside of product-detail pages. By including “add to cart” buttons throughout the site on items such as banners, images, videos, look-books and other content, you can simplify the checkout process for consumers by making the products easily accessible.

Examples of ecommerce sites that feature shop-able content include Net-A-Porter and Lonny, both of which have fully shop-able online magazines. In these magazines, customers can hover over specific items to add them to their carts.

Net-A-Porter also features runway videos with products appearing next to the video as they appear on the screen.

Optimal Shopping Carts, Checkout Pages

According to the Shop.org State of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report, “eight out of ten retailers (79%) said enhancing the checkout process was on the top of their to-do lists for the remainder of the year, with 90-percent of medium-sized retailers listing checkout as a top priority.”

When revamping checkouts, we recommend that retailers consider best practices such as drop-down shopping carts and one-page checkouts. For example, the one-page checkout of our client Rue La La has a cart abandonment rate of only 40-45%, compared to the classic abandonment rate of 60-65%. (That’s a 20% decrease!)

Another good checkout setup to consider is that of Wrangler, which has a similar abandonment rate as Rue La La. The Wrangler checkout features the customer’s cart on the left, and an accordion-style checkout module that shows real-time progress on the right.

Private retail sites may also want to consider features such cart reservation and timed checkouts.

Quick-View Modals

Quick-view modals are another ideal feature for today’s online retail experience that can be easily integrated onto a Magento site. These less-obtrusive pop-ups enable consumers to view all the information housed on the product-detail page, without actually visiting the product-detail page, thus improving site usability for the consumer.

Enhanced Product-Detail Pages

In order to enhance the quality of product-detail pages and provide the most information as possible to consumers, forward-thinking retailers indicated that they will focus on adding alternative images of products (50%), zoom, and color or fabric swatches (31%) this year.

Some other cool features to consider in this regard include:

    • Real-time inventory, where customers can select either color or size first so as not to limit their selection
    • Ability to invite friends to view a customized product page
    • Related content (blogs, Twitter streams, etc.)
    • Ratings and reviews
    • Forums similar to those found at Backcountry and Amazon

Tabs

Tabs can be used to create a more interactive experience for visitors. Take Charlotte Russe for example, whose website has a tabbed bar at the bottom of the screen.

An especially cool aspect of this bar is that it contains a tab to enable customers to invite a friend to shop with them. Using this functionality, friends can click through the site together and chat about what they are viewing.

Style Boards

Style boards are an engaging ecommerce trend that allows customers to drag and drop clothing items into a module to design their own outfits. Many sites then enable customers to publish their outfits so that the community can vote on them. Winners usually receive either a monetary prize, such as a gift card, or a social-status prize, such as a badge. Examples of style boards can be found at Wet SealPolyvore and Kaboodle.

Nontraditional Landing Pages

Nontraditional landing pages can enhance the visual appeal of your ecommerce store. Examples include Gucci’s long, horizontal pages, and Levi’s trendy and fun layouts.

Expertise + Best Practices = Possibilities

As you can see, there are numerous ways to take your ecommerce site to the next level and offer innovative experiences for your customers that combine content, community and commerce. All you need is a partner with a keen familiarity of industry best practices, and the technical expertise to build upon the Magento framework. With these factors in place, there’s an array of possibilities awaiting you.

Which of these features are on the development roadmap for your ecommerce site?

Warren Knight thanks http://www.optaros.com