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Change is coming to eCommerce
by Erin Duff | March 28, 2010 | Uncategorized | 1 comments
Yes We Can*
Image by stop8 via Flickr

Since the time we know eCommerce and Online shopping, not much has changed in how we purchase products on an eCommerce site. You browse for products, try to do your best judgment in trying to understand which of the options will best suit your need and complete the purchase online. Yes, the trust factor has increased as people get more accustomed to using their credit card online. But the purchase process is entirely the same. The funny thing is – many of the old school functions of “add to wishlist” and “email a friend” are still abundant on most top eCommerce websites. If you ask the marketing/product management/eCommerce heads about what value these functions provide, they either don’t know or worse know that these are not adding much value but are afraid that this will remove the little bit of interactivity they have on the site today.

That proves that eCommerce is ripe for change fundamentally. Several people have been talking about this already. The rise of social media brings a world of options to now support this change, to make online shopping close to what real world shopping is.

Over the past few years, some companies have started products that allow for a certain degree of interactivity by adding ratings/reviews or personalized recommendations. However, they still don’t simulate real world experiences.

Let me state a case in point – my wife and I are in the market for a new dining set – we have a large social circle and end up hosting dinners for a group of 20 generally once a month. We passed by a Crate and Barrel store and walked in to look for one design that we could buy a few boxes of to cover our large group. We saw another couple there that ended up buying the set we were eyeing.

How likely do you think we are, knowing that they bought that set to buy that one as well – I guess a little. Yes, it would add a certain degree of credibility that someone else is confident to make that purchase but we may really have no similarities with that couple, especially none that were apparent from the look of it.

I then went up to them to ask why they were buying that dining set and they said that their friends had recommended it to them and they really did not consider any other because they trusted their friend’s choices. Ah! Recommendation from a trusted source = quick purchase. Interesting.

How then can we transfer the case of this couple to our online purchase scenario. Let’s say you are on crateandbarrel.com looking at a their dinnerware. Not sure of what to buy, you start looking at the  “best selling” dining sets. They have reviews on the product page (not sure why the ratings don’t show on the category page making me go back and forth pages trying to read some of them). However, the reviews have little similarity with me as a person – the only thing I know about the reviewer is their location and in a city like Los Angeles, we know no two people are alike :) So the dining sets we’re looking at were rated 3.9, 3.8 and 4.0 respectively. Now which one would fit our personality – and since we were planning to buy a lot, we wanted some help here. The only way we could do this is use their “email a friend” function which by the way auto-checked their email list subscribe function – yikes! We ended up not taking any action at all. Crateandbarrel.com just lost a customer that really wanted to make that purchase, only if they had a little bit of interactivity.

This is a prime example of how eCommerce can improve. We have a large social circle of friends who host these parties like we do and have the same needs and have made the purchase already. It would have been great to get their opinion so we could make that choice. Reviews may help us narrow our choices but not make them. Personalized recommendations can never be close enough. They just don’t work as well as trusted recommedations from friends.

No one has cracked that code just yet. But we’re close .. And If someone from Crateandbarrel’s eCommerce team is listening, we’d love to give you some ideas to improve. And then hopefully I will be able to choose those dining sets I’m looking for :)

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