Finding stability in a world where it seems like a new technology is created every day can be soothing. One piece of technology that has stood the test of time and is used by every ecommerce store is HTML.
With a few exceptions, every single page you look at with a web browser is powered by HTML. This makes it an important piece for your ecommerce store, and one that hasn't changed much over the years.
One reason why HTML hasn't changed much is because it has had a crystal clear role. Instead of being a general purpose programming language that has the potential to do anything, HTML focuses on doing only two things:
Of the two, the structure is the most important to an ecommerce store. Ecommerce websites are constantly changing based on how customers are browsing and buying. That means the ecommerce platform is having to update and generate new content for all the HTML pages.
The structure your platform is using to facilitate this dynamic content doesn't change much. This structure is defined in HTML, through HTML templates.
For example, a men's suits category page uses an HTML template and includes the content about men's suits (e.g. materials, sizing, photos). On the women's dresses category page, the platform will use the same HTML template but use the other product's content.
This means that in the context of an ecommerce store, the structure and template aspects of HTML are critical.
HTML5 is a significant update to the version of HTML that has been in use since early 2000. This update refines HTML so that it's a better technology for modern websites and the modern web.
Since ecommerce stores rely on the structural features of HTML the most, the added structural elements from HTML5 are a powerful addition.
In previous versions of HTML a web developer would have to build their own structural components from a small set of basic elements (`div`, `span`). This meant a lot of code would be needed just to have a basic design and more advanced, modern designs would require a massive amount of code to function.
With HTML5 several new elements were added that give web developers more options and flexibility for their templates - in addition to the previous elements like div and span:
The end result is that with more potential elements to use, a web developer can write less code which results in a faster turnaround time for changes, easier HTML template layout, and even faster loading pages. This can contribute greatly to a better overall customer experience across devices.
These added elements also allow the web developer to more clearly describe the HTML structure for web browsers. This will reduce the number of cross-browser problems, e.g. page looks great in Google Chrome but completely messed up in Apple Safari.
A well-structured HTML5 template, when combined with another technology called CSS3, also enables a store to create a design that is highly functional on all mobile devices. More commonly known as ecommerce responsive design, this removes the need to run a second mobile-only version of your store which can cut down on your web store overhead dramatically.
HTML5 also adds in various media elements which can be valuable for ecommerce stores. The video media element makes embedding video onto a page easier. The embedded video can be added by just using HTML, freeing retailers from having to use third party services like YouTube or Vimeo. The control gained from not having to rely on these third parties is extremely valuable. Given how easy it is to lose customers, retailers don't want third party ads appearing in videos.
Another useful, but more complex media addition is the canvas element. This element acts like a blank sheet of paper (a canvas, if you will), which can be drawn on using code. For products this can be adapted to allow customer customizations to show a live preview of the product based on their input. For example, when a customer can design their own shirt or letterhead and see immediately what it will look like, they may be more inclined to make a purchase versus a competitor customer experience offering only product images.
With these new features and the many that haven't been mentioned, HTML5 is a very useful upgrade for new ecommerce stores and those repltforming to a modern SaaS ecommerce platform like Commerce Cloud. Even if retailers only stick to the basic structural additions and ignore the more advanced parts, HTML5 has a significant net benefit over older versions. Retailers will save time and money with HTML5 in both the short and long run. It's as close to a sure-bet as there is in technology.
On existing stores the payoff will take longer to be recognized. I recommend converting to HTML5 for new pages piece-by-piece if possible. For example, use HTML5 on new standalone landing pages but leave your homepage and product pages as they are. Then when it becomes time to update your design, go full HTML5.
Eric Davis, @littlestreamsw is the founder of Little Stream Software, which helps ecommerce entrepreneurs build and customize their stores using custom apps. Sign up here for his weekly digest of must-read ecommerce articles and resources.