3 ways to thrive in the new service-based approach to E-Commerce

If you have been keeping up with us, you’ll know that Panopta loves E-Commerce and is happy to see it blossoming.The New York Times, yesterday, posted an article on the growth in e-commerce by new players signalling that E-Commerce is no longer just the migration of existing companies to the internet. The article highlights how E-Commerce companies are hacking the middlemen out of brick and mortar stores and going straight to suppliers to significantly alter their industries. These altered industries, however, have their own issues.

Avant-garde Shopping

The primary issue for new e-commerce businesses like Warby Parker, Poppin, and Crane and Canopy, however, is not the elimination of middleman -“Going to factories in China is the easiest part”- it is building a reputation with customers and spreading the word around. And we have 3 take-aways about building respect in the E-commerce industry from what we’ve seen.

E-commerce is about service and content creation. Unlike brick and mortar stores where making objects easy to buy was the crucial part of the business and having a big sign and a great location to grabbed customers; E-commerce needs you to serve them in a constant and consistent way, not unlike a SaaS. Think about it, it is easier than ever to buy something yet that is broadly speaking true for everyone with the proliferation of services like Paypal. So access is no longer a part of the customer’s equation. So your location on internet and its ease of use does nothing to benefit you, your trump card now is making your site a “location” a place customers want to be because your site offers content and a voice that speaks to them. More than ever, being a merchant means having a distinct voice, not unlike a writer.

We have been tracking all sorts of e-commerce brands for a while now and we know that all the rules for a brick and mortar store are inverted. Traditional stores have traditional expectations attached to them: for example they only give you things after your first purchase. That paradigm has shifted, Poppin has an entire category of free stuff that markets its charm very quickly. Why has it shifted this way? The web is inside your customer’s house, their phone, and their tablet. You have to have a reason to be in their space.

Also, you have to be distinct in your service offering and savings in ways that traditional stores don’t. Hint: can anybody tell me the real difference between KMart, Kohls, and Sears?

So they key here is building a strong brand through being respectful and respected by customers.

Branding is your respect-machine

Here are Panopta’s top observations on building a great E-Commerce brand.

  1. Treat it like a service.The internet has taken over everything because it is immediate and our expectations have shifted to the immediate. Every minute counts so be there for you customers every minute of every day whether its your webpage or your email servers. You must do all the back end stuff to guarantee that your brand is there for your customers whenever they want it. Going back to the fact that the web is literally in your customers houses and spaces don’t disrespect them by not serving them. This means providing content and suggestions in your copy, emails, blog that goes along with them leading better lives. People want to buy things from a voice that they respect and delivers “cool” or “relevant” information to them.
  2. Create your own terms for SEO. Unless your product is entirely new in its conception and use then odds are Amazon already sells something like it and that “gets the job done.” In essence, “do you” and sell your product based on its image and lifestyle not its QVC-style features. Content may be the king but content is not just a product anymore but the entire sensibility of the product. And the internet is terrible place for sales-pitches because it is so transparent and there is so much genuine content that already exists. No one has time to care about your sales-pitch. Give your customers something that will slow them down and say, “hey, that’s sweet.” This means creating your own words and terms to put you ahead of the curve.
  3. Stay visible. Don’t play games with you uptime availability. This one is pretty simple but it bears repeating because some traditional stores don’t understand this and it is reflected in their approach to the internet. Our favorite example is J&R whose webpage is built like a long list of pictures and long-non-descriptive-names-of-products-they-sell. Not only do they fail to offer anything to anyone in terms of content and advice on their page but their webpage, unsurprisingly had 423 minutes of downtime last quarter. They don’t use the internet as medium for communication but rather treat it like a catalog. Yet even catalogs offer a strong image of how or why one would use something for example the J. Crew catalog has always been very persuasive at selling the preppy lifestyle by subtly suggesting places to go and things to do in your J.Crew clothes. J&R’s webpage and its downtime has the effect sending out a catalog that looks like a phone book and it is only mailed out on rainy days.

These three simple things are a starting point for building respect with your customers and establish a dialogue for your business in an open and clear way. Perhaps this reason for this is all related to how open-source is the lingua franca of the internet and your servers, and that same mentality of open-source has slipped in to something as distant as selling bed linens. Who knows why? But today, content and access are king. Long live content. Long live access.

About Panopta

Through real-time performance monitoring, Panopta provides IT professionals and hosts reliable, actionable data for optimizing website and application availability, as well as managing service disruptions. Panopta monitors websites, email servers and network infrastructure for thousands of customers in a variety of key market segments. It serves as a trusted source of website and online application monitoring and provides independent analysis based on objective data.

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