I’m an insane online shopper. Online wins over in-person for several reasons. One is research based; if I pick well, I only need to pick a few things that last. 2nd reason is that, most times, I know what it is I’m looking for, if only by category so that makes in-store shopping harder, not easier. Then there’s the third thing of wanting to talk to people who know something about the product. I find it less-than-amusing that most retailers hire people who care not a bit, about what they are selling. It’s not a passion, nor is it even an interest. Asking someone about a particular fashion brand or cut inside, say Macy’s, is nearly ridiculous because the last time they read a fashion magazine spans the range from 1989 to 2006 but misses the last 5 years. So, I stick to online experiences for most things, or boutiques with great customer service, like Crimson Mim, or Bella Rosa.
That is, unless I’m in Provence like I was last summer, and there’s lovely local markets that look like this:
But my own wonky shopping preferences are not why I’m writing. This is actually about your shopping experience, and, more to the point, what it COULD be like in the future. (Every now and then, I focus on a key trend like mobile payments, or sometimes I write by timeframe such as trends for a year like 2008, or 2007.)
This post I’m going to focus on key trends/issues/opportunities in ecommerce.
Online commerce is harder and worse today, than it was 5-10 years ago. Commerce went from local to global allowing lots of inventory but not making it easier to find things. We’re missing the mix of local AND global. We’re missing the unique. We’re missing social (what our friends are getting/interested in/discussing) and we’ve gone from finding things, to being lost. Just think to your own experiences as you shop and you might see that there are five problems at play.
5 Specific Areas:
Discoverability = hard. The average consumer clicked 10.7 clicks to find every day items like sunscreen. I find it rather interesting that Google is publishing on the zero moment of truth and how many clicks consumers use (or get lost in) because of course they have no real benefit from fixing the problem; they monetize each of those useless clicks. What is missing is the ability to not be targeted but to target. That is say, I should be able to say:
And in return, I should be served up appropriate offers, which match not only the algorithmic data but also the personal data I’ve shared. Whenever each of us are opening up 10 browser tabs to shop for a single item, there’s an opportunity for brands, retailers, merchandisers.
Expertise Hard to Find. Expert networks are hard to find. Going to mass-market sites to figure out which products rock doesn’t really give you best-of-class product choices. For example, as a medium level backpacker, I know a bit about packs, bags, and other equipment. I know to trust Backpacker.com, REI, and Mountain Hardware reviews more than Amazon.com reviews; the difference is between specialists and generalists. Of course, online communities exist for many discrete groups. For example, skiers know to check out Huddler’s Epic Ski community and forums; Gardeners can go to Blossom Swap. But what I really want to know is what my friend Craig Donato would say about whether I should pick down over synthetic in a jacket. I’m sort of in the market for a camera and noticed two friends on FB commented on cameras but that was a fluke. Facebook has no way for me to find that out organically and it likely never will. Some say Google+ solves that with circles but the issue is that how I define people isn’t necessarily right for product matching. One friend is a church bud and another a husband of a friend from Grad School. I wouldn’t think to ask either about cameras until I noticed their pictures and got into conversation. For this to solve the expertise problem, serendipity is not enough.
Commerce that can link expert mouths with eager ears, by category, is what’s missing.
Plus, if commerce solutions can add an expert mouth that knows me, (effectively adding social into the mix of experts), by my interests, that would be a nirvana. It is, in my opinion the #holygrail of ecommerce.
Locally Purchased / Mobile Integration. If we can buy locally, source regionally, we change our global footprint and improve local economies. We no longer want to ship products from half way around the world if there’s one close by. From ipads to mobile devices and smartphones, we no longer think just online or offline experiences. We blend our technologies and we blend our needs. Imagine being able to take a picture of a friend’s gadget or shoes, or wonder-woman-like bracelets, and then have an app reveal which boutiques or stores have that exact product within 5 minutes of where you are. You order with a 1-click kind of solution right where you are, and drive up to store on your way to something to have a salesperson bring you your item to the car where you show your digital receipt. No parking, no distractions, but purchasing local. I know from Kumar Kandaswamy that Best Buy hopes to offer something like this for their solutions. The real opportunity is mobile and local integration for every thing, every product line.
Louder Signals Reduce Waste. On the Brand side, there’s one problem no one has yet solved and that is helping brands know what to build, and what to make. This is a relatively visible and known problem in categories like high-end fashion products where designers do a showcase but then have to (largely) guess what to make. But all companies face this challenge. Ecommerce adds tremendous value when they can match company concepts pre-production to sales will solve what has been a timeless problem in commerce: better demand signals. Then, brands will only produce what consumers/markets need. There have been a few concepts of this proven out like Threadless, but the model could be (and needs to be) applied to everything and anything.
For Everyone. Most good ecommerce sites are aimed towards rich people. Think Netaporter. It assumes that people spend a lot of time researching stereo equipment or skis but ignores the every day solutions. So let me state the obvious, social commerce shouldn’t just be for rich people. CK Prahalad got a lot of praise for his concepts of the “bottom of the pyramid” before his premature death. The problem is that when it comes to the bottom of the pyramid in developed (rich) countries, we lose interest. But that market is wider than most people realize. Pay attention to the collaborative consumption movement as well captured by Lisa Gansky in Mesh, as this will be a future business opportunity if it isn’t already. Zipcar is capitalizing on it. So, will others. When we can allow people to purchase smarter, share what they have and use only what they need, our broader society will benefit.And there are tons of market opportunities in that.
In summary, I think there’s loads of new opportunities in #ecommerce innovation. We need to stop commerce sites from being all inventory of all things. Consumers don’t actually value that. What is needed is to find the things are right for US. It’s personal, it’s local, it’s discovery, it’s sharing, it’s social. What I’m describing is a little bit of a holy grail. I realize that. But just remember that holygrails are what customers are seeking. There’s money to be made there, and customers to be served. And for most of us as consumers, a real joy to be had.
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Some interesting recent reading to share:
Remember, too many choices cause people to stall sales as Sheena Iyangar’s research has shown. Ecommerce is still trying to do more content, rather than findability.
For brands: there is zero moment of truth. (h/t @missrogue). You must start to serve that need.
For ecommerce, Ebay has lost its footing but is trying to regain it: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/157/jack-abraham-ebay-milo
On why social is going to matter a lot by a guy who truly gets social, Craig Donato:
Lisa Gansky’s book, The Mesh, is really worth reading: http://lisagansky.com/
Stats on mobile say 7% of us will purchase on mobile within 5 years. (I think that number is conservative.)
(okay, what say you? What is missing in your ecommerce experience?)