In the past few years, web technology developments have occurred that meant consumers no longer needed a web browser – such as the ubiquitous Internet Explorer – in order to access content from the internet.

Instead, RSS feed readers, widgets, and other desktop applications have sprung up to deliver fresh content straight to consumers’ desktops.

But now, with the release of Internet Explorer 8, and the many features it allows website developers to play around with, the ball is firmly back in the browser’s court.

The latest version of Internet Explorer was only officially released last week. But it’s been available in beta for around a year, and website developers have already been playing around with its features – including the every innovative Asos.

One of the first features Asos has exploited is the Web Slice tool, which builds on the Favourites links consumers have always been able to add to their tool bar. Now, Asos customers can save particular product pages – or Web Slices as Microsoft likes to call them – to their browser’s tool bar. They are then alerted when something changes on that page, for instance if the price is changed.

This is a great feature for other retailers to make use of. Instead of sending out a myriad of marketing emails advertising price changes, it will allow customers to easily track changes on the products they are interested in. And because the Web Slices are saved to the consumer’s toolbar, they will receive updates whatever site they happen to be browsing.

Other new features that could interest retailers when they are thinking about the future development of their websites include Accelerators and improved search options.

Accelerators are designed to help people perform tasks online more simply, for instance obtain driving directions or email content to others, without having to open up multiple browser windows and cut and paste information to other sites.

Again there is an opportunity for retailers to make use of these simple tools, for instance to allow a customer to email details of a product to a friend, or get driving directions from their home to their nearest store.

Every development such as these serves to make the internet more intuitive for customers to use. Whatever you think of Microsoft and the technology it creates, it will be developments such as these that allow retailers to continue building their web businesses by offering more value-adding services and choice to customers.