This installment in The Future of … series is about eCommerce. Because Flags Bay is an online only store—selling American and state flags—the future of eCommerce is of particular interest to me, and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it.
As with blogging (yesterday’s topic), eCommerce is in its infancy. Online retailers are still determining the best approach to selling on the web. From personal experience, I can tell you it is different from brick-and-mortar selling, and I think eCommerce websites can learn a lot from successful catalog companies.
Internet only commerce sites began in the early days of the web, but started gaining recognition in late 1999. That year the federal government began releasing sales figures for online quarterly sales, which amounted to $5.3 billion for the fourth quarter—a small percentage of the $821.2 billion in U.S. retail sales. By the fourth quarter 2004, the number was $18.4 billion for eCommerce out of a total retail amount of $938.5 billion.
As you can see, the trend continues to climb and according to Lead Pile, online sales will pass one trillion dollars by 2012.
Online only stores, such as Amazon and eBay, continue to thrive, growing into profitable businesses over the last few years. They are now recording profits, rather than the huge losses they posted early on. Many brick-and-mortar stores, such as Barnes and Noble and Best Buy, have joined the online market. Their online stores compliment their Main Street stores with additional products and delivery options. They also let the buyer select and purchase items online, then pick up at the nearest available store, combining the two.
Opening an eCommerce website is still a daunting task, but today there is help for those who want to venture into the world of eCommerce. Elastic Path is one company dedicated to dispersing information revolving around eCommerce, discussing both the good and the bad. Marketing help is also available from online resources like Drew McLellan’s great Marketing Minute website.
The numbers for online retail sales will continue to climb as security gets even better, and people get more accustomed to shopping in their pajamas.
So where will eCommerce be in the future?
I think online chat will be huge
meebo me! and products like it, makes it easy to interact with buyers that have questions. This easily installed widget, allows visitors to see if you are available for a conversation. This and other chat products are available for most blogging platforms, and can be installed directly onto your site.
My friend Scott Ginsberg includes one on his Blogger website to chat with prospects and friends, alike. When you visit Scott’s blog, the meebo me! box tells you if he is available or not. If he is available, you can converse with Scott in real-time.
I think virtual shopping will be huge
I mean really virtual, not virtual as in you’re there—I’m here. You’ll pick up one of my flags and look at it closely and feel its texture, never leaving your home. You’ll experience the difference between nylon and polyester, feel the stitching and the canvas sleeve, without the need for verbal explanations. You’ll stroll around the virtual store, cruising the aisles, browsing the merchandise much like the physical experience.
We’ll interact face to face … virtually, too.
I think specialty shops will be huge
Amazon and eBay currently sell almost everything, but most of those items are not in stock, and are drop shipped by an independent fulfillment company when an item is sold. The problems show up when the virtual shop is the norm. No one at Amazon can help you with your selection of an American flag because they don’t know anything about them, they know about books.
You’ll come to Flags Bay and be greeted warmly and helped as needed. Your personal assistant will discuss your needs, determine which flag you are looking for, and help you check out. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Many specialty book shops have come into being because of the touch factor. Using Amazon as the example, they have more books available than a brick-and-mortar store, but there are niche stores surviving and thriving. Consider World War Two Books or Civil War Books. They can offer an experience Amazon can’t touch in their niche. Specialty stores have a passion for the product, they’re not just selling the book.
I think virtual world shopping will be huge
In the virtual world of Second Life, you can walk around and interact with others. You can have conversations and conduct business. I read last week that IBM is opening a retail store in Second Life with the intent of selling products. They will be joining many other real world businesses, competing for real dollars and real customers in the unreal world of Second Life.
The technology for virtual shopping is improving all the time, and the same people who inhabit Second Life will move right into online buying, willingly shopping in my virtual world.
These are some of my eCommerce ideas I contemplated while in bed. Where do you see eCommerce heading in the future? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments or drop an email to email@example.com. I’m interested.