Study: Online Shoppers Like Rich Internet Applications

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Online shoppers respond well to the capabilities of rich Internet applications, according to a study released yesterday by technology consulting firm Molecular Inc.


These capabilities include clicking on a product and seeing information about it on the same page, selecting a paint color and seeing a room painted in that shade and having all data entry and validation occur within a single screen.


Molecular, Watertown, MA, tested consumer usability of six Web sites that employ rich Internet applications technology: jjill.com, kayak.com, bananarepublic.com, myrateplan.com, maps.google.com and llbean.com.


RIAs often are used on Web sites to add interactive features such as product configurations, letting users visualize and customize products, and online catalogs, mimicking the personalized in-store experience. RIA-enabled sites can process data directly on the desktop rather than relaying it back to the server like HTML sites.


The technology gives customers "improved response times, more fluid interactions and 'smarter' content to guide people through complex applications such as shopping," Molecular executive vice president Darryl Gehly said in a statement.


Molecular found that users' interactions with RIAs were favorable overall and they enjoyed the interactive features and improved response times not offered by many traditional HTML interfaces.


Users encountered problems with RIA interfaces, but these resulted mostly from usability issues that could have been resolved by testing prior to launch. Therefore, Molecular recommends that companies work closely with their target audiences to understand their needs, goals and expectations and then design rich Internet experiences to meet those goals.


Molecular identified three main points that users responded to favorably across all six Web sites:


· Users found auto-fill fields helpful and benefited from the ability to click on a product and see details about the product on the same page, such as size and color selections. Overall, users could tell that sites with RIAs were quick and responsive, allowing for an improved brand experience.


· Users could create custom products online, such as selecting a paint color for the interior of a home and seeing a room painted that color.


· Users responded well to the single-screen environment, where all data entry and validation occur within a single screen. Users thought they could accomplish tasks faster and easier while receiving the immediate feedback they wanted.


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