If e-commerce is the new normal, what’s next?


Has your business got what it takes to be a King of Convenience or a Master of Entertainment?

The way we shop has changed enormously over the past 15 years.

Globally, we now spend vast amounts of money on Internet retail sites (estimated to top$2 Trillionin 2016). E-Commerce has become part of our cultural fabric. Events like Black Friday in the U.S., Cyber Monday in Europe and Singles Day in China have become major socialtalking points and drive millions of people to spend like crazy on their phones, tablets and PCs.

Search engines like Google and Baidu have become the go-to place for people to start their shopping journeys. And the growing availability ofsame-day deliverymeans that shoppers can get near-instant gratification with just one click.

No doubt about it: the era of Internet-enabled shopping has well and truly arrived. And with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the real driving force behind this transformation was notso much the Internet itself, but the ways in which internet technologies have been used by smart retailers to tap into one of the things that shoppers really crave: Convenience

The Kings of Convenience

Convenient shopping (or c-commerce as I call it) is built on three foundations: the holy trinity of F-B-G (Find it, Buy it, and Get it). And consumers who love convenience (i.e. most of us) and who just want to F-B-G as quickly and intuitively as possible have been well-rewarded in the Internet era.

Findingthings has been transformed by search engines, recommendation algorithms, and the opening-up of niche long-tail inventory to mass-availability. Shoppers now have an unparalleled assortment of products to browse, and increasingly sophisticated ways to find the stuff thats actually relevant to them. And if you cant find the thing you want, you can probably make it or customize with a configurator tool.

Buyingthings remotely, and without physical cash, has now become perfectly normal thanks to advances in cyber-security and the proliferation of electronic payment options to suit all demographics. Buying something online can now be done safely, simply and smoothly with one swipe of a touch screen.

Gettingthings delivered quickly, reliably and cost-effectively has been revolutionized by innovations in logistics and distribution technology. We as shoppers dont tend to notice this stuff (it happens out of site in dark, cavernous warehouses and loading-bays) but no one should doubt just how much smart web and data technologies have transformed the world of logistics and distribution.

The list of retailers who are hitting those F-B-G buttons, and who can count themselves as true kings of convenience would have include, at the top of the tree,Amazon, whose overall convenience is currently unbeatable and who continue to innovate to keep themselves ahead of the pack;Dominos, with their world-(b)eating pizza configurator app and super-quick delivery service; and Argos(in the UK), who are successfully transforming from an old school catalogue player into an impressive m-commerce and click & collect market-leader.

and the Masters of Entertainment

Of course, shopping isnt just about convenience. Like it or not, we live in a consumption-driven society (I shop therefore I am), where the act of browsing and buying is a keen source of pleasure and a leading leisure activity. Indeed, the increased amounts of convenience we now find on one side of our shopping lives has probably given us more time and space to enjoy the other sidethe pleasurable sideof shopping.

Over the last 15 years, some retailers have understood this better than others and have worked hard to up the entertainment-quotient of their shopping experience. And by entertainment, I dont just mean showbiz and razzmatazz. Look around, and youll see that shoppers get their kicks in the strangest ways.

It might be hunting for 50%-off bargains with sharpened elbows in the end of season sale at a high street fashion chain, it might be savoring the elegant dcor, snobbish staff and exquisitely-arranged merchandise in a luxury department store. It might be marveling at the low prices, no-frills service, and take-it-or-leave-it assortment at a discount supermarket, it might be simply marinating in the sheer breadth of choice in an out-of-town hypermarket (35 varieties of toilet paper, anyone?). It might be saving up coupons, or searching out discount codes, to use in-store or online

Basically, any shopping experience that has a unique, exciting, engaging core promise (be it cheap or expensive, commonplace or refined, rough or smooth), and that’s delivered with passion and focus and in a way that keeps the punters coming back for more, is a winner in the entertainment stakes. I call this E! commerce (the E! is for Entertainment…)

A list of E!-Commerce masters would have to include:

  • IKEA, whether love them or hate them, you know exactly what youre in for when you visit one of their stores, and youll most likely end up spending more than you expected to.
  • Zara, which combines high-end fashion with amazing bargains without ever seeming cheap, and who always have something new and interesting to look at.
  • LIDL, the German discount supermarket thats taking the UK by storm, with its pared-back and occasionally esoteric assortment, and its incredible value for money.
  • Apple, with its pristine retail cathedrals, where the crowds flock to worship the shiny gadgets and commune with the blue-shirted geek-godsbehind the Genius Bar. Thats entertainment.

So which one are you?

As we turn the page for the new year of 2016, retailers of all types should be asking themselves: which are one we? Are we Masters of Entertainment, or are we Kings of Convenience? If you occupyone of those categories, thats good. And, if you fall into both, then great, your future is bright!

But if your business is neithernot particularly convenient, nor particularly entertainingthen watch out. The coming years will not be kind to you unless you boost your E! and/or your C levels.

Joseph Ballard
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January 18, 2016
Joseph Ballard

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