The $500 Billion Reason Why Innovation Matters to eCommerce
When you tell people you work in eCommerce technology, it’s always interesting to hear their reaction. The other night the topic came up with some new neighbors in my building. Immediately people were talking about shopping and buying from their Apple watches, a new retail delivery service that guarantees items arrive at your door within an hour, and a prediction that all retail locations in the future will simply be showrooms for trying out products before holding up your NFC enabled phone (or watch) so the item can be shipped straight to you.
As tech savvy consumers, my friends and neighbors have pretty high expectations for digital retail. Since I’d like to be invited back to the next party, I tend to encourage this kind of excitement rather than steer the conversation into the ground by mentioning how the industry is a lot further behind than my friends tend to think. I avoid asking them to walk me through the process of how tedious it can be to shop from their smartphone’s tiny screen and I definitely don’t volunteer the datapoint that less than 10% of major retailers actually have responsive sites.
But I do sometimes take a little poll and ask why they would buy anything at a traditional retail store that can be purchased online. What I most often hear is something along the lines of “I don’t really know, it’s just easier to go to the store and get it.” Other responses include “I want to try it on first” (or touch, feel, depending on the product), “I want it now”, and “it’s easier to compare products when I can see them on a shelf”.
What’s interesting to me is that most of these barriers can and should be knocked down by eCommerce innovation. Better digital merchandising should make for easier product comparisons, impatience for having the product can be solved by the aforementioned faster shipping that’s just arrived to my city, and ease of shopping, the most common reason that people tell me they prefer to buy in a store, should absolutely be improved with the kind of individually focused personalization that my friends are used to experiencing everywhere else.
Let me explain that last point.
My friends are used to a world where their favorite music, movies, news, personal alerts, and social updates can be accessed in an insanely intuitive way. And the apps and sites that drive these services have a powerful ability to anticipate what what they want to consume next (i.e. the next song to play), what’s most relevant at any given moment (a flight delay or a traffic jam in the normal route to work), and what they will personally find most interesting (news about their hometown or a birth announcement that’s prioritized directly on top of their social media feed). These are just examples of thousands of ways people are now accustomed to having digital experiences cater to their individual circumstances and preferences.
We’ve said many times before that eCommerce needs to come to the party. The good news is that it’s happening. I actually believe my friends who have a lot of faith in this industry’s future innovation and growth potential. So do analysts like Forrester who predict that by 2019, eCommerce will come close to reaching $500 Billion in annual sales.
But there’s a caveat. Innovation during the next four years is crucial if you want to be around to pop the Veuve Clicquot when we hit that $500 Billion milestone. The eCommerce companies that are innovating the fastest when it comes to engaging with their consumers – those who create intuitive, individually focused experiences that people are used to seeing everywhere else in their digital experiences – will continue to grab market share from the laggards who are ignoring the changing expectations of how customers want to shop.