In my last blog post, I mentioned some disruptions that could change ecommerce. The infographic I shared mentioned 5G and AI. I thought I would give my personal opinion on what I think will disrupt ecommerce as we see it today.
But before I jump right into that, it is important to think about how it has already been disrupted. Let’s think back through how, at first, ecommerce meant listing your product on your website. Those in the early days will remember Froogle (now Google Shopping) and all those 3rd party listing services like PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, etc. These all existed before Amazon was dominant but while Amazon was growing, first as an ad platform, and then into a marketplace.
I would say the first disruption came with a very subtle switch by Amazon, when they removed Amazon Ads. If you wanted your product on their site, you had to sell through the marketplace. This one change forced the hands of many retailers and ultimately has led to where Amazon is today.
While Amazon was changing the game, the internet changed in 2007 when the iPhone came out. Suddenly, mobile was a thing and we were all scurrying to make our sites mobile-friendly with those dreaded ‘m dot’ URLs. Fast-forward to today, the only retailers that aren’t heading for their demise are the ones that figured out that ecommerce is the center of their existence, and their retail stores are there to support their ecommerce, not vice versa. Some great examples are Target, Home Depot, and BestBuy. All three have figured out ecommerce and how it exists alongside their massive store footprints.
To think about 2020 and the next disruption in ecommerce is sort of a guessing game. If I really knew where it would come from, I certainly wouldn’t be writing it here, I would be investing heavily and hoarding it to myself. I am sure many smart people actually think they know where it will be. I won’t pretend to be that smart but I have some good ideas about where it will come from. These opinions are in no particular order:
Augmented Reality (AR): If you are in the fashion brand or clothing space, you should be following this very closely. If someone wants to try on your clothes, it should be as easy as using their phone to either take a picture of themselves or to upload an existing image. Pokemon taught us that we can throw AR balls around in our world, so there is no reason you cannot try on clothes that aren’t physically in your hands. The key to your success or downfall here is privacy. Some have tested mirrors that allow you to ‘try on’ clothes, but it was met with reluctance to stand in front of a computer. Remember the launch of those airport scanning machines that freaked people out? I see that blocking this for now. Here is a great article on some of the early ideas in this space.
Subscriptions: Yes, they already exist but I think we are just seeing the beginning of their potential. Imagine a subscription service that is your personal assistant. It isn’t just Stitch Fix and monthly clothes deliveries, but rather everything you need. Amazon sort of touched on this with their Dash buttons, which they subsequently killed last year as now you can just ask Alexa to order your Tide. But let’s go deeper, with a recipe subscription. Refrigerators that can scan their own contents already exist, so what’s stopping us from picking five recipes, having the refrigerator scan for what you already have, while another camera in your pantry applies some Machine Learning to your shelves to assess what ingredients you have there. Then, your local grocery store delivers everything you need to make the five meals, all without you doing anything but picking the recipes. Subscriptions can go so much further.
IoT: Many may ask what is IoT. It is the Internet of Things, lots of things. It’s what made my recipe idea happen, and it is what allows us to embed the internet in just about any device that exists. The evolution of ordering something – from when we had to use our desktop computer, then later our phone, and now by just talking randomly in a room – is just the start. Embedding the internet in more devices will just open up the world to being able to get the item they want wherever they are, with or without a computer or phone.
5G: This may be the biggest disrupter, not that it is all that exciting on the surface. It is just faster internet, but if you look at IoT or even older disruptors like mobile shopping, the faster the connection the more someone can push down. Websites provide some pretty crappy experiences for the sake of speed, but if you remove the speed problem, the sky’s the limit.
Personalization: Okay, this has been a buzzword for a long time, but it is really difficult and sort of creepy at the same time. However, I believe brands of tomorrow will need to figure out how to identify their customer and serve up the content that the customer wants, right then. Privacy aside, this one is the most intriguing to me and my teams. We see this as the way a brand can connect with its customer and provide the human touch, without a human.
So there are some of my ideas of what’s going to disrupt ecommerce next. Of course, there are other things we should consider, like why does a server in a restaurant need to exist when a kiosk at the table would be faster and provide better overall service? Or, why does the grocery store need to exist when we have order and pick up, or order and ship (raise your hand if you remember Webvan)? Everything is evolving, don’t watch it, get in the middle of it!