The Future of Ecommerce

A surprisingly in-depth article on BuzzFeed makes an excellent point with regards to the future of ecommerce. It notes:

These initiatives are happening at a time of transition for online commerce. Though we may visit a seemingly unlimited number of websites on desktop (including lots of online shops), we spend 80% of our time on mobile apps within the top five apps, according to Forrester. On phones then, which are increasingly sucking up our time, there’s little room for the array of online shops to enter our consciousness. So these businesses are playing ball with the most popular apps to find alternate routes to reach us, and our wallets. And Facebook’s app is one we use an awful lot. According to Forrester, 13% of all time spent in mobile apps is spent within Facebook’s apps.

This is actually what I think has happened already and will happen a lot more in ecommerce going forward. Most folks call this ‘consolidation’ and once again, technology is driving it. It’s why the most promising ecommerce businesses never IPO and get bought – think Buy.com (Rakuten) or Zappos (Amazon). Essentially, it’s winner takes all in many respects.

I’ve talked about how hard pure play ecommerce is before and as the article points out, mobile is making it harder – both the technology and business model. It’s quite possible the golden era of ‘desktop’ website based ecommerce is already behind us – remember folks it’s only been two decades since ‘ecommerce’ really took off (Amazon is only 20 years old!).

If we propose that the desktop web ecommerce falls away and is replaced by mobile, what are we left with? A handful of ‘platforms’ would be my guess; Amazon, Facebook etc that act as funnels to physical retailers ie those with mall or stand-alone stores that can actually (or sometimes) make profits. It’s still going to be a boon for the technology companies – those that provide software and services to physical retailers. But from a merchants perspective, the once seemingly low barriers to entry could perhaps be a thing of the past.

One can imagine getting ‘noticed’ on the platforms could be both difficult and expensive – organic reach might disappear along with SEO as search becomes less relevant. We can speculate forever but I guess if you’re intent on starting or growing a brand, all you can do is focus on the fundamentals of product, price, promotion and service. The future of ecommerce, as commerce itself, looks to be both turbulent but full of opportunities.

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