AJAX shopping cart at the GAP

This NYT article NYT article describes the new AJAX-driven GAP shopping experience (deployment of which apparantly required shutting down gap.com for THREE WEEKS!) More blog coverage here, here and here.
AJAX debuting on the shopping cart actually makes perfect sense. Shopping cart bailouts cost ecommerce companies millions, so the ROI of improving the shopping experience is extremly high.

From the article:
For instance, when women browse Gap.com’s T-shirt section, they do not have to click to a new page to see details about the 16 shirts shown on each page. Rather, when they put the cursor over an item (called “mousing over” in industry parlance), they are invited to click on a “quick look” link for the shirt. That link yields a pop-up window that shows a model wearing the shirt alongside swatches of the colors it is available in. Mouse over any swatch, and the shirt takes on its hue – and the window tells you what sizes are in stock.
When a shopper clicks “add to bag” from within that window, the site does not shuttle her to a checkout page, as many electronic retailers do. Instead, another small window replaces the previous one, showing the shopping bag and asking her to consider multi-item discounts. If she ignores that window or clicks the “close” button, it disappears and she continues browsing shirts from the original page.
Toby Lenk, president of Gap Inc. Direct, the company’s corporate catalog and online division, said the mouse-overs and pop-up windows eliminated the need to bounce the shopper off her browsing path each time she needed information.

It’s actually something of a surprise to me that it has taken this long for AJAX to make it to an ecommerce site. If we look at a parallel rich client technology (Flash), the first “serious” place it was used was in ecommerce (with the broadmore hotel being the canonical example). But AJAX has spread through the web portals and the web2.0 startups, and now the etailers are playing catch-up.
There was the pretty-cool-but-just-a-toy panic goods store a few months ago, but GAP is the first serious example of AJAX as an ecommerce technology. It will be interesting to see how they fare, how long it takes competitors to copy them, and whether this creates or destroys business for other rich client players. Gap’s competitors will certainly have to do SOMETHING now. My guess is that this is good news for shopping-cart vendors like Allurent, and any consultancies that have credibility in the ecommerce space.