Why speed kills and the secret to ecommerce platform selection

I shudder everytime I get asked, “Which platform should we pick?” or “ We are on Wordpress … “. Not to be disparaging to any platform, they are all of their place and of their time. Please keep that context as you read this. I am reverting to Kevin Kelly and looking at this through the lens of the 12 technological forces that are, well, inevitable. It goes a little something like this.

  1. Becoming – We are in a state of unceasing change and are continually learning and adapting (we are constant ‘newbies’) to the new that is unlike anything that was before. -Let’s call this Technological impact.
  2. Cognifying – Applied intelligence will be available just like electricity was over 100 years ago. It will be embedded into everything and change the nature of how things work. I see this as personalisation and automation.
  3. Flowing – Stocks to flows, ownership to use. Atoms and bits are now flowing from creators to consumers who are themselves creators. We want things that flow, in time and space. Everything will become a product – think of services now and how they are being transacted, booking and prepayment etc.
  4. Screening – We will interact with information through screens. All information will become fluid, linked and tagged. All content and libraries will become symbols on screens we interact with. Be present everywhere your customers are. (Omnichannel)
  5. Accessing – The availability of anything, atoms or bits, immediately without owning. Whatever you need you can get, and get the latest and best. Ownership is no longer necessary. But not everything needs to be a subscription.
  6. Sharing – Everyone creates and it’s all shared. Any idea, thought, expression or artifact can be contributed to by anyone and experienced by anyone if they so desire. Content is widely available and rarely unique.
  7. Filtering – Attention is the scare resource. Allocating it to an exponentially expanding universe requires filtering based on who we are. Future filters will both serve us and surprise us. Make as many interactions as possible, count.
  8. Remixing – Whatever is new is a remix of what exists. Remixing requires radical deconstruction and the ability to find the pieces to recombine and transform into something new. Shopify does this well – it’s impact forces marketers to rethink their tech.
  9. Interacting – We will interact with our devices and with others in realistic virtual and augmented worlds. Our devices will ‘know’ us and we will know worlds and others through our devices. Lockdown has paved the way for a new delivery of experience. For the record VR was available to purchase in 1995.
  10. Tracking – We will track and be tracked everywhere and everywhen. What we track will expand exponentially and become extra ‘senses’. ‘Coveillance’ will emerge where the watchers and the watched are transparent. Security and privacy laws are changing.
  11. Questioning – Billions of connected people are creating a new level of organization where questioning is the norm and answers emerge from the collective. Unimagined questions beget unimaginable answers. Google is now an answers platform, not necessarily a search engine. Search is being replaced by discovery.
  12. Beginning – Now is the time in which, 30 years hence, people will look back and say, ‘that was the dawn of the era we are living in’. These forces will shape our future and we are only at the beginning. All of this, is just starting.

What has all of this got to do with my platform choice? Give me just one more minute. The above considerations help describe the forces that impact the decision-maker in these. We have a number of brilliant integration partners and developer teams in Ireland – Studio49, Aonach and Magico to name a few. But their thought processes all operate on different plains of thought. So your answer is always varied.

Open source, as a choice, gives you a blank canvas to work from, all you need is a great idea and an even better painter.

SaaS is like having a shopping list and you walk through the aisles picking the items you need and adding it to the basket and checking out. Free to make your own dinner. And then you remember you need a commie chef, a waiter, and all the other kitchen staff to help too.

But each platform has its own agenda, shareholders, and beliefs around technology. So their approaches are always different and sometimes in conflict. In this case, conflict is not a bad word, just the appropriate on. This creates confusion and challenges.

So why did I include the 12 forces by Kevin Kelly, in short, to look smart, just kidding. Well, we owe it to ourselves to start taking ownership of our own opinions and understanding. This is something I encourage for everyone. We need to understand the legacy and we need to have one eye on the future.

Case in point, I don’t necessarily believe we need a traditional website anymore – a great catalogue and strong checkout are going to be critical, with customers free to pay from whatever source they want. A second point, endless browsing is a challenged experience and needs review. Attention spans have dropped and we like to be spoonfed – just look at the rise of deal sites, telling us the stuff we need. The evolution of crowdfunding is the same process just tapping into our emotions that we are buying a product that make us feel cool, or that we are supporting a struggling new brand or a great cause. But the cognitive process for shopping has changed. We need to observe this closely

Platform Selection Part 1 – The Motivators

If the heart isn’t in it, the head don’t work. We need to be having these discussions for the right reasons. A journey into ecommerce has been put on hold by so many businesses for years. For it not to happen, there needs to be a reason, a motivation, something that you said no to. Now, we all want that silver bullet. It is not coming!

A small walk to a digression: The Penneys/Primark saga

Penneys losing £650M per month through not being online. Without being in the business it is hard to know exactly what is going on. But let’s look from the outside for a second and determine if we would embark to even bother going online, let alone selecting a platform. Average order value was deemed (upon internal review some years ago) to be so small as to prohibit profitability. A challenge on upsell or bundling. High returns rates, sure so does ASOS. The point to note here, is to do thing profitably. Comparisons have been made to Nasty Gal or Prettylittlething but they are not the same. Yes Penneys have a shared cross section in their demographic but their customer mx is vastly different.  Amazon basics range caters to the Penneys demographic reasonably well and would pose a threat. Were Penneys to compete, the day of the 50p jumper are now in sight.

Then there is the platform risk, how to merchandise, how to sell. Their store experience is actually very confusing and not easy to repeat online. So would I have done it? Not a replica of their store but I think looking into the future Force 8 remixing, gives a signpost of where they can go. Smaller, curated selections targeting their younger audience as a primary driver. Penneys could (though wont) set up a social only store – that would be my plan. But I digress, again. 

Others have gone about it other ways with major global brands and retailers have been quick to respond to the new reality. Tinned food giant Heinz has introduced its first direct-to-consumer (D2C) website, created in less than three weeks by ecommerce agency Good Growth.

Lindt, the chocolatier did it in 3 days.

Speed Kills

Speed was the motivator and a need to sell products. Not solving a customer problem.  The platform gives you access (see force 5) but the skill you need to sell lies somewhere in the ability to run ads, create marketing campaigns and a clear understanding of how ad platforms work or force 7 – filtering. So in 3 months’ time, we are going to be facing into the problem of trading. 

Headlines in October 2020:

“ecommerce doesn’t work”

“We wasted money on our ecommerce platform”

It takes time, effort and a reckless approach to being relentless. You need to understand where your customers are – did you build a shop and forget to advertise through social, because that’s where your customers were hiding for the last 3 months.

Time looking at the “no” is time well spent

  • Factors that will be looked at in hindsight –
  • No search demand for our product;
  • We are a small rural shop with a small, local audience.

Now these ones are crucial

  • We don’t have the skills in house.
  • We had no other options.
  • We picked the wrong platform – this cost us too much.

So my motivating point to you now as we move to a post-pandemic method of operating is slow down, observe and see what it was that we responded to; customers. And, it worked.

Our customers, out of necessity, moved online, they won’t all stay, but at least, when they needed us, we were there. This generally is a great starting point, figure out where are your customers (channel) and be there, prepare to be omnipresent. Omnipresence may mean for some, a hybrid model of online and offline, for others it might be growth through third parties. These are strategic decisions we will have to address or we make the wrong choice. If the diagnosis is wrong or in many cases too narrow, the strategy will fail.

Combining the 12 forces

Amazon filed for IPO in 1997, their website hasn’t shifted much in terms of sexiness, but it has gotten damn big and hard to shift. At its core, it offers service – the first place to search for well, everything. You can stand over delivery. Their response was telling, give people what they need now, first. They were laser-focused on telling us who their customer was, the end-user, not their supply chain partners.

Amazon as a signpost and Shopify giving us their signpost

Amazon comprises amazing ability to know what we like, indeed now the “you might like” section on the listings page accounts for approx. 35% of the core revenue annually. Buy box is king, it uses its metrics to determine which seller, offers the best price and service. We then only have to swipe to buy (great UX).

Shopify on the other hand wants to provide an out of the box style shopping experience sold to you by one of their great partners. Shopify also showed a disregard for tech supply partners when they rolled their installed payments plan, screw you Klarna. But they have that same relentless pursuit of their customer – the merchant. They successfully connected the dots between what the market needed. Their roadmap, if you were watching is a great measure of their knowledge too – you cannot do this yourselves. We will do your email, your ads, your fulfillment oh and we are throwing in cross-border just to make it easy. Watch for accounting and tax services next.

What the hell has this got to do with platforms?

All of this information should be informing you of how broad the world of eCommerce is, primarily because eCommerce is just the shop window. All of your existing business challenges and processes have to work, without them there is nothing. 

Some other noteworthy signals of the period.

  •       Facebook released Shops – native “in-app” shopping. This little line here will be BIG.
  •       Shopware released a Towncentre approach and brought V 6.2 forward
  •       Magento seemed to standstill
  •     Shopify paused fees, made email free, and doubled down on logistics. But they made noise.
  •     ABCommerce (Irish made platform) knowing their customers offered consultations to direct clients to “turn off” international selling altogether, resulting in customers being on average 500% YoY for the period.
  •       BigCommerce were offering a 3 day turnaround from sign up to go live and 3 months no fees.

I ran a poll on May 24th to assess which platform stood out to people, there were no surprises to me that Shopify earned 82% of the vote. I didn’t include Amazon, eBay or Facebook in the discussion, but could have. Nay, should have, it will be the biggest influence in ecommerce outside Amazon in the next 10 years.

A very crude synopsis, but those with the best partner network win. To give an example, when Shopify announced their roadmap at Reunite, every partner was given their “script” to post on social, including (importantly) their contribution to success. Their ability to market to the new world makes them successful. The platform itself, I talk about a lot, but it has its challenges, however it is sold as simple. Magento on the other hand, is complex and requires thought and skill.

So if you are in Irish company reading this and wondering why you didn’t hear about ABCommerce or the Sitebuilder/Shopbuilder by Blacknight, I would say it is down to marketing, not platform ability or attractiveness.

For us to successfully package this up from an Irish persepctive we need to change our approach and partner like it was the Lisdoonvarna festival and pick our partners wisely. We have enough amazing tech capability in the country to make this a reality. Seek our your partner, the music is playing.

Platform selection will always be tough.

The solution – language.

When we shift the message from which platform should we choose to which channels should we be in, we will keep the merry-go-round spinning.

Part 2 on Monday….

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