e-Business 3.0 and the Vanguard of Virtual Shopping
The dawn of online selling, now affectionately known as e-Commerce 1.0 saw the inception of online as a distribution channel. At the time however it was only really adoptable by large businesses with simple, often direct supply chains. Since then, as everyone knows, the online channel has gathered traction, so much so that all online sales account for an estimated 5% of the transactions that take place in the world today.
‘The really exciting thing is – e-Commerce is in fact only getting started.’ No matter how customised, specific or tailored your product/service offering is, e-Commerce 3.0 probably has a solution that can turn your website into a showroom. Retailers who sell online all around the world are seeing a trend. People want the convenience and economic benefits of online buying, along with the experience of being sold something. The resulting pattern – retailers have started creating virtual and physical environments where users/customers can experience the benefits of each in a space that resembles the age-old retail processes.
In short – you no longer need a cubical at the back of a boutique to try on the season’s latest pieces, or wait for your goods to be returned by Amazon. The world’s largest online retailer recently pioneered the ‘buy and collect’ locker system at a London shopping centre. This allows customers to make their purchases online and try them on at the designated location. Asos has also tried the physical collection model whereby returns are simply left behind with a correct size slip. The desired affect is to avoid the drudgery of post office queues and repackaging their wares.
Some of our best-known retail outfits have recently pioneered the virtual store in a physical setting. Under its Korean brand Homeplus, Tesco has developed the concept as virtual shelves which are take the form of posters depicting the in-store environment – with every product having its own QR code. This allows for consumers to shop more avidly with their smart-phones and thus helps curb capital intensive store expansions. eBay has gone a step further and have actually opened their own physical ‘virtual’ store, in a high-street location. The store, on 5th Avenue plays host to the mostly high-end products eBay feels appeal to the segments of their user base that values the retail experience over the economic benefit of using their site. This can be seen as an attempt to merge the high-end retail ‘experience’ to that of making a purchase on eBay.
UK retail group John Lewis has also embraced the QR code revolution with Waitrose, its sister brand. They’ve started using the store window as a host for these online points of sale. This is a pivotal move for someone in the clothing industry where the store window is often one of the main selling points for attracting footfall from the more passive shopper.
In summary, the larger retailers who benefited from shortening their supply chain and reducing operation costs by focusing on the online channel are realizing that customer experience needs to be an integral part of how they engage their users. Exemplary cases of striking a balance in this area are merely entering the experimental phase. However, these primal patterns would suggest that the major shift in the way we buy things is slowly changing course. In short, retailing in many cases, will never die.