Have you ever bought anything online?
If I had asked you this question less than three years ago, I would have received a plethora of mixed opinion. Ask the same question today, and you get the sense that, while people have adopted e-commerce, they are yet to embrace it.
Consumers in South Africa are still treating online shopping as a last resort to get something not immediately available from brick-and-mortar vendors. As such, retailers haven’t looked into it much either. And the truth is, we’re going backwards because of it.
In the US alone, online retail sales are expected to top $197 billion by the end of 2011. By the end of 2015, this number is expected to reach $280 billion.
Globally, e-commerce sales are growing at more than 19% per annum, which, by numbers, means that online sales will reach $1 trillion US by 2013.
While these numbers are impressive, the opportunities aren’t in the sales. They’re in the supporting infrastructure.
E-commerce may be defined, loosely, as the buying and selling of goods or services over the internet, but there is so much more to it than that. As ecommerce becomes stronger, the need to establish more warehousing space, better and more cost efficient logistics solutions and countless online services become greater.
Paypal, for instance, already has more than 100 million active users. This translates to more than $3 billion in payments actioned from mobile phones alone. So much so, in fact, that Paypal predicts the end of the wallet by 2015.
Online and mobile payment solutions are the single most important aspect to the online retailer. Without a seamless and secure way to move funds between client and vendor, online commerce is no different to window shopping.
And it’s here too where online retailers need to start taking note. Websites are essentially store fronts. They need to be attractive to shoppers. You need to want to spent time on the page without feeling disorientated or confused. Too many online stores are hard to navigate because they are poorly laid out and developed.
Retailers are also seeing value in social networks. And it makes sense – it’s where the people are.
The world on the web
Facebook alone has more 750 million active members. ‘Active’ meaning they log on and engage with other users daily. This is nearly a billion people logging onto one site, each day.
Popular retailers and brands can now sell directly off their fan pages. If you think about the concept, it makes perfect sense. It’s an in-your-face outlet, in the face of consumers who already have a liking to your brand.
Ever noticed how you see online ads in your sidebar that are related in some way to what you’re interested in? That is the result of psychographic profiling.
When we log onto and update our online accounts, be it email or on social networks, we leave a trail of defining footprints. There are algorithms out there that gather this information and direct relevant advertising to our profiles.
There are companies that exist purely to harvest this data. Companies such as GraphEffect are measuring purchase intent by doing semantic analysis on Facebook status updates alone.
The gross reality of all this is that a new era in buying and selling isn’t on its way. It’s already here.