The Future of Shopping?

Today, Windows Vista appeared in, according to Bill, 39,000 stores. Quite possibly a big deal for many people who spend as much time in front of a computer as I do, but not for me, at least not when compared to the launch of the OTTO Store.

OTTO, for readers outside of Europe, is the no. 1 worldwide retailer in mail-order sales, and no. 2 behind Amazon in online sales. Maybe hard to believe, considering almost noone knows their name outside of Europe, but apparently it’s a fact. Americans have, however, certainly heard of Crate & Barrel, which is one of over 140 companies which belong to the the OTTO Group.

SinnerSchrader Studios, where I work, was lucky enough to be approached by OTTO and Microsoft, to develop a shopping application for OTTO which would run in Windows Vista. This became a challenging and exciting project for us which started last summer and culminated in the launch today. As of a few hours ago, you can download and install the OTTO Store (if you’ve already installed Vista, and have a good understanding of German).

OTTO Store

I’ve been designing stuff for the web since 1993. After working for so long in one medium (which to be honest hasn’t changed that much since then) it was a shock and in a way a relief to work on an app for Vista. It reminds me of the good old days of CD-Roms, when you could animate your heart out, throw in videos all over the place, and even spin things around in 3D if you wanted to. With Vista, and today’s growing bandwidth, that’s all possible again. It’s like a whole new world, and requires a whole new way of thinking. No more boxy layouts designed to make content management systems happy, no more pseudo piece of paper layouts, and no more browser. The OTTO Store is a self-contained application which is installed on the user’s machine. The fact that it’s a “download once, use many” experience gave us the freedom to think up stuff for which a user would never wait for his browser to show him.

As for the development process, “challenging” is a polite word for it. Since this was a joint project between us, OTTO and Microsoft, we had access to their development software (once known as Sparkle, now known as Blend, either way also known by the imminently forgettable name “Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer”) in the alpha and beta phases. This was obviously a blessing and a curse. Web designers are used to fully functional, stable programs like Adobe Photoshop. The security of knowing you can work all day and save when you go home is a feeling I learned to miss. On the other hand we spent a week in Redmond, got to give our feedback directly to Microsoftians, and were pleased to see most of our problems solved in successive versions.

The relief and pleasure of having the OTTO Store finished and online is noticeable throughout our whole team — all of whom I must add worked far more and harder on the Store than I did — but a big question mark remains in my head. Is this really the future of shopping? Noone can answer that question yet, but I’m very interested to see how many people download it, and of those, how many actually buy something. I’m honestly pleasantly surprised that a company as large and old as OTTO had the guts and vision to invest in something so innovative which may, at first, bring so little concrete return.

I’ve also got to say I’m proud and excited to be a member of one of very few teams who can realise such a project today in Germany. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything this new, worked in such a close-knit team, and learned so much at work.

More about the OTTO Store

Comments

  1. Rerun says:

    First: as a Mac User without double-boot capability, I can only judge the Otto Store by what I’ve seen on the web and in the videos. It seems like a dream come true for interaction designers. Congratulations – and a little bit of envy – for this result. It seems very polished and slick looking.

    My only gripe with this solution is, that it is proprietary in two dimensions. First, its a Vista application, thus only accessible for Users of MS latest OS (by the way: does it work with all Versions of Vista?) Second, it only works with the Otto Store not with any other retail or mail-order stores on the web. Time will tell, if this will have an significant effect on adopting the app by Ottos customers.

    I would like to see an open framework for store applications like this, that would enable cross-development every major platform.

    But maybe there is one, if you listen to the Second Life evangelists. True, SL is not as polished and does not deliver the same level of customer experience, but its installed based is growing every day (btw: does anyone know of comparisons between SL and Vista adoption rates?) and SL is OS agnostic, at least since it open-sourced its client software.

  2. Mb. says:

    @Rerun: sure, I understand the gripes. But you also can’t expect money-making behemoths like Microsoft and OTTO to invest heavily to create an open framework which all of their competitors can take advantage of free of charge, can you?

    As for Second Life, I also see this kind of shopping experience going in the fully immersive open platform direction “one day”, but that one day will only come once Second Life’s graphics look like something other than warmed up dog’s dinner.

    I’ll take these points up in a follow-up post I’m mulling over. This post here was just a short announcement and overview, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot more to say about the subject.

  3. Alex says:

    hi,

    [there are more than 140 companies that belong to the otto group! see: http://ottogroup.com]

    and about the project goals:
    i would follow the argumentation of public beta: http://www.public-beta.com/archives/112

    ..its just a huge PR project. “how can we grab/attack the innovation crown of google/ebay/amazon?” – “ok, lets make an innovation driven project!”

  4. Rerun says:

    @Matt
    Those were not exactly gripes 😉
    I have worked with MS and although not Otto, other retailers and I fully understand their desirer to secure an Investment like that. Enterprises tend to wall-off their solutions since this is “proved by history” solution to keep a step ahead of the rest. IBM, before endorsing OpenSource did exactly this and ruled the market for big iron server since an innovatiove upstart like sun came along in the early eighties … (revving up this coukd take to long, so I take a shortcut.) I do not condem MS or Otto for this solution. This particular solution is very well executed (hats off) and will force the rest of us UX People thinking about new ways in interaction design.

    Short summary of what I say below: I think open markets for customers and corporations will meake closed-solutions obsolete. Beeing depended on Vista is a closed-solution. Other corporations will demand the same kind of service from MS. Other markets (and i do mean customers) will demand the same kind of service will demand the same kind of experience. And thinking of a global economy, where other OS become more relevant in Asia and other emergent markets, corporation will think twice about spending money for development of two types of customer experience.

    I do believe that closed solutions like the Vista Otto Store will be made obsolete by some form of immersive consumer experience that will be open in some form. Why, because thats the the way the net works.

    I don’t mean any form of Open Source Software – but I do mean some framwork that will be open for little nominal fee (or license) to many participants. Think of a shopping mall. You will find a H&M beside C&As and many other clothing retailers. That way, all the stores profit from customers walking by their windows. You woukd need to transfer the mall (or city center) concept into an immersive solution. Otherways its like a mall where you will only find clothing and shoe stores that belong to one holding and no bookstores, cafes, record stores and so on.

    If you, as a corporate retailer, keep staying in some walled-off solution, you will find your customers walking by into an more open “mall” on the net.

    That scenario will take a few years, but it will happen. Think back to the mid-eighties. All the walled-off gardens, which promised to deliver superior user-experience through controlled technologies, protocols or moderated discussions (AOL in its closed-form, CompuServe, the very short lived Apples iVillage, Prodigy or T-Online) are kind of information superhighway road-kill because its customers wanted to experience the whole internet, not just those parts the service provider provided to them.

    Their customers started to use browsers, mail-clients, news-clients, irc and any other software which allowed access to content the service providers didn’t provide.

    And the corporations? They stopped putting money into development for non-standard solutions.

    Someda a non-discriminatory (in a technical sense) solution will come by. The kind of solution that will work on many platforms and which gives every retailer/entrepreneur/corporation the same access-tools to create stunning solutions.

    Phew, that was long and grew into a kind of off-topic rant.

    I am still very curious to see, how customers will like the Otto Store and how other Otto companies may adopt it.

  5. Mb. says:

    @Alex: whoa, yeah, 140. Thanks for the info, corrected the post above.

    @Rene: damn, your comment’s almost as long as my post. 🙂 Gives me plenty to think about for some follow-up posts.

  6. Sven says:

    Just to set the record straight: this application also works fine on my PC running Windows XP SP2.
    So it’s not just Vista. It will probably run just fine on Windows Server 2003 as well, but who wants to do that ? 🙂

    I’m sure this is small comfort (if any) to the
    Mac and Linux users out there but to the (huge)
    majority out there running Windows XP this may be
    an important bit of news.

  7. Mb. says:

    @Sven: yep, runs in XP just fine, in fact I don’t have Vista installed, and did all of my work in Blend from within XP. To get Blend running properly I had to install .Net 3.0 and an SDK, but everything should run fine in XP with the right bits.

  8. Rerun says:

    … and there’s a nice introduction (in german) to other platforms made for what he calls “marketing in virtual worlds” over at Markus Breuers ‘Notizen aus der Provinz’

    http://notizen.typepad.com/aus_der_provinz/2007/02/mehr_plattforme.html

  9. raju says:

    That’s a very nice interface, looks great! I’d love to see such an experience realized with an open source technology. Why not OpenLaszlo: totally open source, supporting Flash 6,7 and 8 as well as AJAX, running on all major platforms.

    I think it’s hard to achieve the same performance inside the browser with AJAX or Flash, but there are technologies out there which we give you a lot of what WPF delivers.

    But still: awesome interface!

  10. narto says:

    That’s awesome! I heard about WPF months ago. I never realize that it can be used to make such a great application. You’re the first who impress me so much! 🙂

  1. Fischmarkt says:

    Vorhang auf!…

    Der größte Launch aller Zeiten war gestern. Jetzt kommt die spannendste Anwendung, die es für Windows Vista bis jetzt gibt. Der OTTO-Store ist eines der Top-10-Strategieprojekte, mit denen zum Launch von Microsoft Windows Vista Anwendungsbeispiele …

  2. […] Otto Store on Windows Vista Leider habe ich noch kein Vista und weiß auch gerade nicht was ich im Ottoshop suchen sollte, hatte aber in den letzten Monaten genug Blicke auf das Werk werfen dürfen, das er mit einem tollen Team zusammenbrutzelte. Auch ich komme aus dem Multimedia-Steinzeitalter und meine ersten Jobs während des Studiums hatten mehr mit Programmierung als mit Gestaltung […]

  3. […] It only takes a brief glimpse at the screenshots for this application to realize that its success comes from a cross-disciplinary team of developers, designers and retail specialists. In this new world, it’s going to be increasingly important for developer teams to think from the start about design in all forms. You can read a great blog post from the designer behind the OTTO application, who talks about this in more detail. […]

  4. […] Microsoft just released some applications to demonstrate the fancy features of Microsoft Vista. Among others, the new Otto shop -a dedicated client application for the Vista PC- is intended to show us how future e-commerce may look like. And indeed it looks pretty amazing, a true masterpiece of novel interface design. Well done, folks! […]

  5. […] on the implementation) Share this post: email it! | bookmark it! | digg it! | reddit! | kick it! | live it! Filed under: WCS, WCF, Cardspace, WPF, infocard, winfx  […]

  6. […] sweet Microsoft application (never thought I’d use those two words in the same sentence!) is the OTTO store. This one runs only on Vista machines and is a true desktop app, although it connects to the […]