The current state of e-commerce is about three things: creating content that adds to your brand without sounding like a shrill sales pitch, making sure your e-commerce sites are tuned to all media platforms and planning how to grow within the Amazon jungle without getting stomped by the elephant of e-commerce.
I spent a couple of hours at the MITX e-commerce summit last week. It was a good time to have a conference as Amazon was due to report its yearly results later in the week. At the same time, there were still a lot of rumblings from the supposed breakdown of freight shipping services to meet demand at the end of the holiday season along with renewed interest in Facebook as an advertising medium following the company’s strong financial results in part propelled by mobile ad sales.
First up was Faisal Masud, the recently (last spring) named executive vice president of global e-commerce at Staples. Masud has made all the right stops, including Amazon, eBay and Groupon, to make him an authority on e-commerce and the right selection to help Staples, which according to several rankings, is now the number two Internet retailer after Amazon, transition from a brick-and-mortar store to a mobile e-commerce market leader.
Here’s my summary of Masud’s advice for developing a successful e-commerce strategy. Don’t focus on Amazon; focus on the experience of your current and potential customers. Approach e-commerce from the perspective of the device being used; think about how you are using the real estate of the device. Realize that customers now carry a kiosk (whether smartphone or tablet) as they move throughout the physical store and pay attention to what is being purchased via e-commerce rather than what you think is happening.
Masud found Staples’ e-commerce customers, especially those shopping via mobile devices, were more interested in buying electronics than simply refilling office supplies. “Customers only care about four things: do you have the selection; do you have the lowest price; can I get it quickly; and if I don’t want it, can I pick up the phone and you will take care of the return,” said Masud.
Make sure your mobile site allows easy answers to those four questions, and you are on your way to e-commerce success. Tuning your e-commerce site to answer those questions in the mobile experience sounds easy. But take a look at the sites out there, and you will find yourself lost in the click swamp if you want to figure out a return policy.
Amazon Casts a Big Shadow Over Everyone’s E-Commerce Status
Although some marketers argue we are still in the content-is-king era, the tension between marketers who want content to subtly reinforce brands versus sales organizations that want sites that sell, sell, sell continues unabated. Adding to that conflict are sites that still reside in a world of words when video and multimedia are how many users prefer to consume their content.
One talk that pointed to the right way to consider content was provided by Megan Knisely, director of marketing for Karmaloop. While I am about as far removed as possible from the young, clothes- and brand-driven crowd Karmaloop targets, Knisely’s use of YouTube channels, multimedia Web events and bringing well-known (at least to the Karmaloop audience) stars to the Web and mobile experience without over-pitching the sales piece is a model that many business-to-business e-commerce wannabes should follow.
This brings us to Amazon’s huge place in the market. Amazon grew 22 percent to $74.5 billion in revenue in 2013, but its stock still took a beating after it reported its results Jan. 30 in the midst of the broad stock market retreat that started early in the month. Amazon is the e-commerce giant “coming after everyone’s business,” in the words of Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru .
Companies hoping to expand their e-commerce sales find a limited number of options, including finding a niche where Amazon does not yet exist (there are not too many of those left), partnering with Amazon (watch your margins) or come up with a way to build a tighter customer bond than Amazon’s retail technology infrastructure can provide.
Maybe the answer is to return to Staples’ e-commerce chief Faisal Masud’s advice about keeping those four points in mind. Do you have the selection? Do you have the lowest price? Can I get it quickly, and if I don’t want it, can I pick up the phone and you will take care of the return? Just make sure all those four capabilities are apparent and easy to access, whether your customer is coming in via the Web, via an app or over their mobile device.
Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.