I was over in Boston earlier this year for ATG Insight: a product showcase hosted by one of the leading e-commerce application suite vendors. There were a number of invited speakers including David Weinberger and Hung LeHong who were both talking about future trends in e-commerce. What struck me about these forecast sessions was how little of what they were talking about is actually new. There was some funky stuff about placing products in virtual shops in Second Life but other than that the identified major trends – multi-channel delivery via browser, hand-held, set-top box, etc.; guided and assisted purchasing; rich and user-generated content – were nothing new. All of this had been done in the dotcom ‘era’ (1998-2001) by various youthful entrepreneurs with a three-page business plan and many millions in funding.
And then I realised that that was actually the point. Whilst the ideas themselves haven’t changed that much there are some really important differences:
- The companies pushing the envelope on e-commerce are no longer flash-in-the-pan start ups. Amongst the companies mentioned as examples of early adopters of these trends were Woolworths, Vodafone, BestBuy, Target and Philips; large corporations with multi-billion turnovers. Real businesses not business plans.
- The connectivity necessary to support rich interaction is becoming the norm, not the exception. Most PC-based browsers in Europe and North America now connect via broadband and many mobile devices can select from a variety of connection types to deliver near-broadband speeds. The choice between ‘simple and fast’ and ‘rich but slow’ interfaces is no longer so stark.
- E-commerce has become an accepted part of consumer culture. In 2000 there wasn’t a week that went buy without some scare story in the press about how people’s credit card details had been hijacked or someone had ‘lost’ all their customers details. Not only has the state-of-the-practice improved to reduce the risks of shopping online, the hysteria and fear of the new has ebbed away.
We’re looking at a new dotcom era, but one where the ‘dotcom’ refers simply to the channel you use, not the type of company you are dealing with.