The Transition to Commerce Everywhere
(Reading time approx: 4 mins)
This past May, the internet was abuzz with people taking different sides on the firing of New York Times editor Jill Abramson. Although, everyone was weighing in on the ethics and politics of the situation, there was one tidbit that surfaced that had me totally fixated. I read an article on Neiman Journalism Lab that contained the leaked Newsroom Innovation Report that looked at the data surrounding the Times’ digital strategy. Although the report was quite fascinating and very telling of the state of the newspaper industry, there was one graphic that really caught my attention.
The Homepage Visitors stat clearly showed the expected demise of the established newspaper industry. With the democratization of news online, the relevance of the New York Times and their amazing history had little impact on the massive drop in people coming to the home page of the New York Times online. Losing 80 million visitors, half of your user base, in just two years is devastating. But then I noticed that their Page Views and Time Spent stats did not have the same drop. The reason is that, although people rarely went to the homepage, the NYT’s content was being consumed because people were introduced through other channels. Those channels were primarily social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The true value of the newspaper was reframed from the historic brand to being simply a collection of individual sharable stories.
As a technology and commerce guy, this model makes a ton of sense to me. At Hubba, we have been reimagining how commerce will work over the next 2, 5, 10 years and beyond. A big part of our thinking follows this distributed model. For me, two important facts about this future are rooted in the notion of decentralized commerce and a reframing of how commerce fits in with our lives.
Decentralization of Commerce
Although everyone is well aware of the breakneck speed that retail is moving, I don’t feel like I am understating things when I say that there is a cataclysmic shift in the direction the industry is headed. For thousands of years, if you needed something you went to the ‘store’ whether that was the blacksmith for your horseshoes or the butcher for your meat.
Even with the growth of the internet and eCommerce, you still went to a website for your purchasing, whether that was Ebay, Amazon or any of the other sites that have come and gone over the last few tech cycles.
Nowadays, we are starting to see the decentralization of commerce. The model is changing for the first time in decades. Now, commerce is embedded throughout your life, decentralized across many mediums and mechanisms. It is no longer about your store or eCommerce site being the newspaper ‘homepage’. It is about your product being sold from outside sources. It’s about commerce everywhere.
This week, we saw this transition when Facebook announced their Facebook Buy Button. This allows users to purchase items they come across on the network while still staying the Facebook environment. We can see this model starting to form in other areas as well. Twitter allows you to send items to your Amazon Cart simply by hashtagging #AmazonCart. Also this week, Pinterest took another step closer to commerce with their partnership announcement with Shopify. Although not streamlined eCommerce, enhanced Pins are now one step away from the transaction and fulfillment.
Not only are there more mediums for commerce, there are more mechanisms. You are no longer tethered to your computer desk as the central place to shop online. Amazon released their Firefly smartphone. A user can now take a picture of almost anything they need and purchase it immediately. You can also start to do the same thing with Google Glass and other wearables. It is so simple to buy something by looking at it and making a movement.
As we start to see the ramp up of the Internet of Things, your kitchen becomes its own store. Amazon Dash allows you to scan things into your cart but soon, you won’t even need to do that. You will just be able to order by scanning from your fridge. Or to take it a step further, the infrared cameras (similar to those used in Microsoft Surface) can determine if you are low in milk and automatically order when the jug is ¼ full. Or to take it another a step further, the jug itself can determine that it is running low on milk and order it on its own.
With new mediums, we are clearly transitioning to the decentralized world of commerce everywhere.
Reframing how commerce everywhere fits in with our lives
Maybe it is the Philosophy major in me but please bear with me through this concept. Historically, shopping was a ‘thing’. It was an activity. It was something you did. You went to the store, you went online, you went shopping. As we move to this next model of commerce, shopping transitions from the thing itself to simply a tool to accomplish a goal. Commerce simply becomes an answer to a problem.
The holistic view looks at a situation like this: My desire is to have more quality time with my kids. My approach is to build a tree house in our backyard. Some tools I need to do this are lumber, nails and a hammer.
The old world of commerce was focused on the stages associated with buying the hammer. It would entail the research going into which hammer to buy, where you can find it, driving down to the store and getting it. As we get more advanced in this new world of commerce everywhere, we will see massive leaps in search/visual search, recommendations, loyalty, payments and fulfillment.
That means that the entire shopping experience as we used to know it becomes commoditized. The shopping experience will move more upstream to the desire and the approach. The rest of it will be invisible.
This area of desire and approach is where Facebook and other networks really shine. The Facebook Buy button does two important things. First, it is yet another step to commoditizing shopping. Second, it pushes people to start to focus more upstream to discovery.
The biggest disruption to the retail industry has yet to hit us with its full impact. As we start to move into a world where commerce is decentralized and commoditized, we will start to see some really significant changes in consumer behaviour and a whole new redefinition of what it means to be a retailer.
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