What is ecommerce all about?
Your dictionary will tell you, more or less, that it means “doing business online”. But what kind of trade isn’t done online in some way these days? Even local businesses like plumbers have their own websites, and might find work through HomeAdviser or TrustATrader.
Ecommerce is certainly diverse, and means different things to different people. To some, it’s less about technology and more about people. To others, the element of trust – or the lack of it – is key. Yet others see it defined by entrepreneurship, and the freedom to do business without being in the same place as their customers, or even the same time zone.
So there’s no single defining characteristic that makes ecommerce what it is. There are many, and the one that’s most important to you depends on your individual knowledge and experience. I asked thirty people in the business “what defines ecommerce for you?” so I can share that diverse range of opinions. Here’s what they said.
- Technology Powering Transactions
- Trust and Distrust
- Shoppers Interacting With Merchants
- Absolute Transparency
- A Lot of Hard Work
- Giving the Customer What They Want
- Business Like Any Other
- Getting The Right Mix
- Building a Brand
- A Very Human Business
- Still In Its Infancy
Technology Powering Transactions
Ecommerce is the use of technology to efficiently perform transactions between two or more parties. When a consumer product is involved, ecommerce provides a greater value (a deal) or simply greater convenience.
Everyday the line between online shopping and traditional retail is pushed and pulled. Ecommerce is in the center of this positively awesome tug of war – one where there is really no winner or loser – just better experiences.
Robert Gilbreath, VP of Marketing, ShipStation.com
Back in the 90’s my previous business developed software for ATMs (cash machines) throughout the planet – it was great fun. That was ecommerce: creating electronic transactions, protecting transactions and data, communication protocols, the back end processing and so on. So what’s ecommerce mean to me now that we’re in retail? Ecommerce has always just been a way to carry out and complete lots of transactions in the most cost effective, convenient and secure way possible, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. And I’m guessing that’s why retailers love it as well.
Alex Ogilvie, Managing Director, Seller Dynamics
For me ecommerce is freedom. When I needed money at University it provided a flexible and fun way to have a part time job without compromising my studies or social life. I remember the first time I realized that it could work as an income and how it felt like cheating! 17 years later and this is still true, even though now I choose to live vicariously through my clients and their success.
Elizabeth Hitchins, Freelance Consultant, KidsonTalks
Ecommerce to me, it means freedom. The freedom to transact business without the need to be in the same room… or even the same country. This freedom translates into opportunities never imagined for the individual. And that kind of freedom is worth celebrating. Long live ecommerce!
John Lawson, CEO, 3rd Power Outlet and ColderICE Media
I think the one constant for e-merchants is that although the business has gotten more competitive over the years, and the various channels are moving targets, they still get to work for themselves. Few would have it any other way. They are entrepreneurs and all that comes with that (the good and the bad, of course). Technology was really important at first and marketing remains hugely important, but that’s secondary. It’s mostly about freedom.
Brad Schepp, Ecommerce Author and Editor
Ecommerce is about innovation. It’s about seeing the potential in new technologies to drive real change in consumer behavior and then acting on it. Take the surge in mobile use for example; this technology redefined the way that consumers behave online. Many in the ecommerce industry embraced this change and adapted their offering accordingly. Websites became entirely mobile-friendly; a standard which is now expected by most consumers.
Antony Chesworth, CEO & Founder, ekmPowershop
Trust and Distrust
The early days of ecommerce were filled with distrust – my very first online purchase was a scam that set me back $700. Today, people distrust companies that are not online. Nearly every buying decision will begin online and many consumers expect all or at least a portion of their daily business to be handled online. Ecommerce has made the world smaller, more connected and more accessible in every way to the everyday person.
Laura Greeno, VP Digital Marketing, Ecomdash
Shoppers Interacting With Merchants
Over recent years, I think the definition of ecommerce has evolved. Previously, it represented a complex online world filled with newfangled technology and sitting disparate from the “core” world of traditional, offline, retail.
Now I think ecommerce is simpler to define. It has become an integral part of the way shoppers interact with merchants and does not necessarily represent the actual act of purchasing, i.e. the transaction. In fact, any touch-point that a merchant has with a shopper that occurs online versus on the phone or in person, in store, can be considered “ecommerce” and this means it’s more critical than ever for merchants to use joined-up technology behind the scenes.
James Scott, President, Brightpearl USA
To me, ecommerce is about one thing – transparency. Ecommerce is defined by clear two-way transfer of information. For example, only in ecommerce can a customer know exactly how many other people bought a product, what they liked or disliked about it, how satisfied they were with the seller, and even how many units the seller still has in stock! On the other side, even the most basic of online businesses can easily know exactly who they’re selling to, how many items they sell, what time of day and exactly how much profit they make on each and every sale. Brick and mortar retailers can spend years, and millions of dollars trying to find out the same thing and still could never get the same level of clarity.
Shmuli Goldberg, Director of Marketing, Feedvisor.com
A Lot of Hard Work
Ecommerce is like commerce but one octave higher. Nearly everything that matters for commerce also matters for ecommerce, but everything tends to matter more. Good branding, good assortment, good sourcing, good pricing, good stock levels are all critical ingredients. Running a conventional business typically feels like playing at a local sporting event – tough but manageable, but ecommerce is like being thrown in the middle of an Olympic event, with world class players all around.
Joannes Vermorel, Founder, Lokad
How do you make a living in ecommerce? It takes a lot of hard work. People seem to think there is some magic formula to being successful, but there isn’t. You have to do a myriad of things right every day – fulfill, market, research products, customer service, and do it well. My typical weeks runs about 70 work hours. That’s actual working, not thinking, which is nearly constant! Don’t sweat the small issues, trying to get eBay feedback reversed or customers to change their minds. That time is better spent improving services or creating value.
Jack Phillips, President, Jax Music Supply
Giving the Customer What They Want
The way I see it, ecommerce is about giving the customer exactly what they want, in a way that wasn’t possible before. For some customers, that’s simplicity – product recommendations and a one-click checkout so they don’t have to spend any time finding things or buying them. For others, it’s discovery – the ability to see new things that they’re interested in, but they wouldn’t have come across before. And all this done through a medium that is extremely convenient, and which is powered by technology able to take the hassle and hard work out of shopping, and leave only what’s most enjoyable to that individual person.
Ivan Mazour, CEO and Founder, Ometria
Think like a buyer. How long has it been since you took a buyer’s trip in your own online store? Too many sellers miss out on sales with a high bounce rate and abandoned carts due to the little things that don’t necessarily cost. Do you force people to register and then hit them with high shipping costs? Do you give a choice of shipping options and speeds of delivery? Be in every place that your buyer wishes to buy and deliver how they want it to be delivered, it’s about choice.
Jane Bell, eBay Specialist Consultant, eBay Anorak
For me, ecommerce equates to convenience. For buyers this means finding products quickly, matching those products against their particular buying criteria, purchasing through a simple checkout and receiving the goods where and when they want them. Sellers simply need to provide as much of that as they can.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, Volo
Ecommerce is all about convenience for the user – providing a convenient route and experience to purchase a product they’re in need of. Obviously ecommerce is about selling online, but the real essence is to provide a simple way for users to find and understand a product.
Some of the larger multi-channel retailers are adapting their ecommerce stores to be more like their offline stores, and that’s the same principle of making the journey consistent and simple.
Paul Rogers, Founder, Audited
Ecommerce is the most accessible channel for people to begin their entrepreneurial journey, and for established entrepreneurs to become change-makers by creating and distributing new and innovative products to the world. The fact that ecommerce really hasn’t changed much since it’s inception means that this is still an industry that’s at the forefront of technology, yet ripe for massive disruption.
Ecommerce to me represents such an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs to build, launch and grow a business that can make a difference in their personal lives as well as the world.
Richard Lazazzera, Content Strategist, Shopify, Founder, A Better Lemonade Stand
For me, ecommerce is about two things: the thrill of entrepreneurship and the freedom that comes with it. Ecommerce is fun. It’s a serious business, yes, but it’s fun. I get a high from getting order notification emails, and the whole mechanics of online business are fascinating, from sourcing products to building a store to driving conversions. Finally, the freedom you can get from an online business is amazing. You can travel the world, do what you like, when you like, and where you like, as long as you have a laptop and internet connection to manage your business.
Shabbir Nooruddin, Bootstrapping eCommerce
Business Like Any Other
Ecommerce is not so different to every day business as was once thought – responsibility, service, delivery, execution and sustainability are the keys to future success. At the end of the day you are selling products to people, these people are your customers, if you do not service them fairly and with a basic level of respect the system falls down.
Tim Brown, CEO, 360 Degree Supply Chain Solutions
The e in ecommerce is phoney. We’re just talking about trading and that’s an age-old human activity. The web has opened up new opportunities for sure but the practice is just the same as it was for many thousands of years. That’s why we should be suspicious of the people who promise the world: it’s snake oil. Trade is a human instinct and ecommerce is just trade online. Trust your gut feel and don’t be blinded by the latest shiny trends. You’ve either got it or you ain’t.
Dan Wilson, Editor, Tamebay.com
In my experience a large part of ecommerce success can be attributed to one word… processes. The businesses that understand at an early stage the aim is to automate and simplify core processes as much as possible are the ones that see the most success. This is true from inventory and order management to the pick, pack and dispatch process. Getting the right processes in place will make growth, and ultimately success, much more of a reality.
Dave Furness, Co-founder, UnderstandingE
Getting The Right Mix
In it is purest form ecommerce is defined by price, product selection and speed. Tick all three boxes then you have a business which customers will love and your competitors will fear.
It is using technology to provide a solution to an inefficiency in retail. May it be standing in a queue, product availability or footfall. It is also an augmentation of the retail sales experience to provide the customer a transactional event whether it be in real-time (mobile) or at a suitable time for the customer (desktop).
Hendrik Laubscher, Development Strategist, PriceCheck
Gone are the days where your site magically gets eyeballs in front of it. Whether you are a billion dollar ecommerce business, or just starting, marketing is paramount. Successful businesses must have sufficient market demand, products people want to buy (at a price they are comfortable with), a unique design that inspires trust and comfort, and an effective marketing launch plan.
David Jaeger, Founder, Global SEM Partners
Building a Brand
Resellers are a thing of the past. When you’re just reselling other branded product on your website – what’s your competitive edge? What value are you really creating? You don’t own the supply chain and you’re held at the whim of the brand or distributor. The key to ecommerce success is building a brand, going direct to the consumer and cutting out the middle-man. Industries that have been comfortable for the past century are now vulnerable and ripe for disruption thanks to the internet. Now is the time to challenge and change the system to make it work better. If you want to disrupt a vertical and win in ecommerce, you have to beat old companies at their own game.
Chad Rubin, CEO, Skubana, Managing Director, Crucial Vacuum.com
A Very Human Business
Since the last recession, approaches to ecommerce have changed. Thousands of niche P2P marketplaces are growing exponentially and disrupting every vertical. Products, skills and rental assets are being shared, traded and sold between individuals, and increasing trust amongst users is reducing dependence on big brands and marketplaces. Ecommerce is not just about individual sellers in big marketplaces, it’s about independent shops and store-fronts. It’s changing to look more like your grandparents’ high street rather than your parents’ shopping mall.
Matt Godwin, VP Strategic Partnerships, eRated
Great ecommerce should be defined by very human traits. It should be personal, intuitive, reliable, friendly and reassuring. The technology should almost be invisible (less is more) and work like magic. I want my ecommerce experience to match that of a local shop where they know me and understand me likes and dislikes. People buy from people they like. Therefore I would define great ecommerce as incredibly likeable.
John W. Hayes, Marketing Strategist and Author, iContact
Still In Its Infancy
Ecommerce is the most exciting area there is and it’s still very young. You might look at eBay or Amazon and think they have been around for ages but in many ways ecommerce is still in its late infancy years and what happens over the next decade is extremely exciting.
What will happen to the marketplaces we know today? What will happen with social ecommerce? There is so much going on each day, let alone over a period of a month or even a year. With this freedom for it to move, there is never a dull day to be had (ever!)
Matthew Ogborne, Co-founder, UnderstandingE.com