E-commerce is the latest trend to give publishers hope for a new way to engage with users (and to develop a new revenue stream). The e-commerce space is now crowded with publishers: New York Magazine recently launched a curated deals site for NYC; digital-only VIVMag offers e-commerce for its users; Hearst got into the e-commerce game with group offerings through select titles and other e-commerce options; and F + W Media boasts 26 digital storefronts and says e-commerce will be its second largest (if not its largest) revenue stream by 2014. American Express’s DEPARTURES is launching eEXCLUSIVES in October, which will offer Platinum Card and Centurion users of Amex to access limited time e-commerce deals from retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue.

Along with the process of creating a user-friendly purchasing strategy, publishers are now faced with the challenge of optimizing e-commerce (along with the rest of their content) for the tablet platform. Alex Schmelkin, president of e-commerce solution provider Alexander Interactive, works with brands like Lester’s regional department stores, e-commerce industry publication Internet Retailer and Adorama Photography on their digital presence.

Here, Schmelkin offers e-commerce designers solutions to smooth the transition to “t-commerce”.

Working Above (And Below) “The Fold”

On a desktop browser, users are often bombarded with links that are “above the fold”-the space on the computer screen before the user scrolls down to view more content. Publishers tend to jam this top portion with hyper links to other content and products, as this space is often the most viewed.

Schmelkin says that with the tablet space, it is important to be aware of the size of the tablet medium (usually between 7 and 11 inches of space) when designing, “It’s important to minimize the navigation, and the clutter…with media sites like NYT or TIME magazine, there could be literally hundreds of links above the fold. This doesn’t work when it comes to the tablet. We need to prioritize to keep the truly most important info on top.”

The elimination of pagination presents a different dynamic for publishers as well, with page number clickthrough eliminated and the concept of “infinite scroll” introduced through the tablet medium. In this way, the top of the “page” is not immediately clear, and this factor should be taken under consideration when placing products for user purchase.

Responsive Layouts (And Ditching the Hover Trick)

As creative designers create layouts for the tablet, landscape and portrait options for user engagement are important to consider. These kinds of responsive layouts offer web designers more options for product display. Schmelkin says, “If you’ve got a bunch of products in a category when you’re working with an online retailer – when I switch the iPad into landscape mode, should product image [size] increase, or I should add another product (4 instead of 3)?”

Tablets may offer more opportunities to showcase wares, but it takes away others. “Over the years, web designers like us have overused the concept of when you hover over a certain part of the page, something big happens,” Schmelkin says. This pop-out action often includes embedded video content or discount options from a retailer. On tablets, users abandon their mouse and use fingers in a more tactile engagement, leaving designers without the option of their trusted hovering strategy.

Present and Future Success Through T-Commerce

Real time analytics of user engagement with content on tablets is important not only for publishers and their editorial teams to consider (companies like Conde Nast are making the analysis of digital behavior a priority), but for creative designers behind advertising and e-commerce efforts to track as well. How users engage with the content, where they come from, where they spend their time and where they don’t are all factors important to the design process.

Schmelkin says, “As the traditional paradigms are being broken, you need to be able to monitor in real time and perceive how they’re using the sites so you can respond and make more adjustments.”

As for what’s next in the t-commerce space, Schmelkin believes stronger user engagement is the upcoming trend du jour. With cameras integrated directly into tablet casing, the possibility of users uploading pictures of themselves to virtually try on outfits or match their current home décor with samples from a vendor will personalize the t-commerce experience even further.

Though the t-commerce space is an exciting new territory for publishers and brands alike, Schmelkin stresses the importance of monitoring user engagement to implement effective design methods for a strong ROI. “Brands have to justify spending the dollars to create these t-commerce initiatives, and you need to be able to track,” he says.

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