What is e commerce? There was a time when the answer to that question was a simple one: you made a website, listed a product that you already had for sale in your brick-and-mortar location, and customers placed their orders. In fact, e commerce was often used as shorthand for online retail, as those businesses were among the first to enlist the internet as a point of sale.
Today, however, the landscape has changed considerably. The idea of a single e commerce model no longer applies in a world where customers, services, and the online experience have evolved to the point where almost every business has incorporated an internet component.
What is e commerce today? Let’s take a look at where the evolution of the term has taken us.
New customers, new practices
That original e commerce model referenced above was almost entirely business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and early consumer-facing retail adopters mixed together. Today, the use of the internet to find new markets, customers, and clients has evolved to include business-to-business (B2B) and even consumer-to-consumer (C2C) sales.
This widening of the field has brought with it a re-think in how commerce is conducted online. The standard shopping cart setup that worked so well for retail is of little use when attempting to link a major corporate client with a comprehensive package of services, nor can it address the one-on-one logistics of individual sellers seeking single clients.
As a result, new sales models and technologies to support those models had a significant impact on the answer to the “What is e commerce?” question.
Stepping up the tech game
Even in the pioneering retail space, strategies have become increasingly sophisticated. Whereas once a click-and-buy listing site would have got the B2C job done, today the emphasis on in-depth product presentation, including high-resolution photography and high definition video, the proliferation of “virtual” store fronts that simulate a traditional in-person buying experience, and the use of augmented and virtual reality technologies that facilitate interaction with items, are fast becoming the norm.
Both B2C and B2B e commerce deployments have each incorporated a more aggressive set of customer service technologies as well. The use of chatbots — AI-powered algorithms that can handle basic text inquiries — is commonplace, with 24/7 human chat access representing the next line of customer interaction. This area of overlap points to the increasing influence and decreasing cost of “smart” customer experience tech.
Mobile calls the shots
A final piece of the new e commerce puzzle is the rise of mobile sales. In 2018, two of retail’s hottest days of the year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – saw over $1 billion in sales placed via mobile devices.
“End-users, not technologies, shape the market,” explains mobile marketing expert and author Matt Haig. “Consequently, marketers need to stay abreast not only of technological developments but also of the way people respond to them.”
With 81% of Americans owning a smart phone, it stands to reason that for many, their first online interaction with a brand, company, or market will be via a handheld device rather than a laptop or a PC. This requires not necessarily a doubling of efforts, but at the very least a concerted effort to create mobile e commerce experiences that are as seamless as standard web deployments.