If E-Commerce Is The New Normal, What’s Next?

A really interesting article from Joseph Ballard at SAP. Joseph talks about the next era of e-commerce –  C and E-commerce!

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 Trillion in 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 social talking 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 of same-day delivery means 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 not so 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 the 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.

Finding things 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 that’s actually relevant to them.  And if you can’t find the thing you want, you can probably make it or customize with a configurator tool.

Buying things 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 touchscreen.

Getting things delivered quickly, reliably and cost-effectively has been revolutionised by innovations in logistics and distribution technology. We as shoppers don’t tend to notice this stuff (it happens out of sight 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 included, 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; Domino’s, 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 isn’t 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 side—the pleasurable side—of 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 don’t just mean showbiz and razzmatazz. Look around, and you’ll 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 savouring the elegant décor, snobbish staff and exquisitely-arranged merchandise in a luxury department store. It might be marvelling 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 you’re in for when you visit one of their stores, and you’ll 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 that’s 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-gods behind the Genius Bar. That’s 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 one are we? Are we Masters of Entertainment, or are we Kings of Convenience? If you occupy one of those categories, that’s good. And, if you fall into both, then great, your future is bright!

But if your business is neither—not particularly convenient, nor particularly entertaining—then watch out. The coming years will not be kind to you unless you boost your “E!” and/or your “C” levels.

Neil How
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Neil How

Neil ran his first SAP transformation programme in his early twenties. He spent the next 21 years working both client side and for various consultancies running numerous SAP programmes. After successfully completing over 15 full lifecycles he took a senior leadership/board position and his work moved onto creating the same success for others.

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