The Future Of Shopping In Three Trends
But the retail and e-commerce industries still interest me and living in New York provides a firsthand view into the petri dish that many of these companies use to experiment. So almost two years later, I’ve revisited the space to focus on three more trends that are changing the way we shop. (I’m leaving out an exploration of mobile for the moment, since it’s probably worth its own post.)
First, a brief look at the bigger picture.
It makes some sense then that the pace of e-commerce growth appears to be decelerating in both the developed and developing worlds. I should note that a deceleration in the developing world means going from say, 94% year-over-year growth in China in 2012, to 64% in 2014. Those are still monster numbers, and there’s still plenty of land to grab, but the peak growth rates appear to be in the rearview.
In the U.S., the pace of growth is a more stately 14%. The sector attracts a healthy sum of sum of venture money–nearly $1 billion in Q1 of 2014, according the very helpful people at the NVCA.
But all of that strength doesn’t mean that the future of shopping is as simple as buying everything online. Consider our first trend:
For online retailers, it’s always been relatively easy to gather data about customers. If you run a Web company you can track all kinds of information about shoppers who visit your site—where they’re located, how they reached your page, what they look at and where they get held up during the shopping process. This helps e-commerce companies adjust tactics quickly to maximize sales.
For brick-and-mortar stores, that kind of granular data has been harder to come by. Location-based technologies promise to bridge that data gap. Apple AAPL -0.49% recently introduced iBeacon, a set of small sensors that can be placed around stores to track and communicate with customers’ iPhones. Startups like Estimote, Nomi and inMarket, meanwhile, sell similar technology to retailers.
This kind of technology helps brick-and-mortar retailers to optimize their store layouts, pricing, and improve ad campaigns. It also figures heavily into the next trend.
Since e-commerce first started gaining traction in the late 90s, nearly every brick-and-mortar brand in the country has developed an online sales strategy. But traditionally, it hasn’t worked in reverse. Amazon, eBay EBAY +0.36%, Blue Nile and other online pioneers never opened up physical shops for customers to browse items.
That’s starting to change as more and more e-commerce companies warm to the benefits of brick-and-mortar. Warby Parker, a sunglasses brand that started out online in 2010, has set up six stores since opening its first in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood last year.
Other online companies like Etsy, Everlane, Birchbox and Harry’s have also dabbled in setting up physical stores, often experimenting with temporary locations or popup shops before devoting more resources.
Meanwhile, traditional brick-and-mortar brands are getting smarter about integrating online efforts with their physical outlets. Nordstrom JWN -1.31% sets the pace among department stores. It bought HauteLook, a flash sales site, for $180 million in 2011 and invested $16 million into Bonobos. Web sales at the company grew 33% last quarter and it’s using brick-and-mortar locations as distribution centers for fast shipping.
Other retailers are following suit, at the very least integrating their online inventories with those of their stores. The latest crop of tablet-ready POS systems, like Lightspeed, Revel and Tulip Retail, are helping streamline the process.
Top Brands Now Start Online
For years, one name has struck fear into hearts of young e-commerce entrepreneurs: Amazon. The online retail giant has a reputation for ruthlessly competing against upstarts, undercutting them on price and diverting millions of marketing dollars to drive them out of business.
So how do you build an Amazon-proof online retail business? In short, make your own stuff. (Bessemer’s Jeremy Levine pointed this out in an interview last year.) More and more, we’re seeing online brands emerge that control every aspect of their businesses, from design and manufacturing to technology and distribution.
There’s Warby Parker for sunglasses, Chloe & Isabel for jewelry, Chubbies for shorts, even MeUndies for underwear and Tuft and Needle for beds.
The biggest retail brands of the next decade are being built online, right now.