It’s hard to imagine what life was like before the iPhone, the App Store, Amazon, Facebook, Gilt and PayPal. But drill down deeper to the behaviors and the underlying services, features and functionality they support and it’s clear why these and the other first-movers behind the innovations on this list established best practices, achieved critical mass, have loyal customers or some combination of some or all of these.
One – Click Buying: You may know it under it’s other names: one-click shopping, 1-Click, or even as Barnes and Nobles’ Express Lane, and if that doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably seen it if you shop on Amazon or used it if you shop on iTunes. This is that handy and frictionless feature pioneered and patented by Amazon that lets shoppers make purchases without having to go through a shopping cart process and buy with, well…just one click.
Flash Sales: In 2007 the trunk show model came online in a way that was mass, disruptive and shopping would forever be changed no matter what the category. Gilt Groupe was at the vanguard, starting with women’s clothing and accessories and slowly creeping into other categories like men’s, kids, travel and food. The model is membership based with limited-time sales of high-end goods (in scarce quantities) at a discount and the inventory changes everyday. The sales update at the same time everyday so shoppers know what time to come by and buy and they use email to target shoppers with what they think they will want. Since Gilt started in 2007, others have emerged with some variance to the model—RueLala, ideeli, Beyond The Rack, Fab and Amazon’s MyHabit. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…
Online Auctions: eBay, the name most widely associated with online auctions, started in 1995 as an auction site called AuctionWeb. It wasn’t until 1997 that AuctionWeb was renamed eBay. In it’s history, eBay has been the host of numerous sales of designer goods and eBay has cracked down on security and fraud so buyers and sellers can rest assured the Prada bag they are buying is the real deal and the seller is getting paid in full and if you REALLY want something you can use “Buy It Now’ and bypass all the waiting. eBay purchased PayPal in 2002 and a third party API allowed ecommerce sites the ability to offer PalPay as a payment option.
A corollary to the traditional online auction is the crowd-sourced buying model that exploded in late 2010 and early 2011 with the likes of Groupon. The model is a new offer (usually a substantial savings) is presented daily and if enough users “buy-in” the deal is activated. Buyers are incentivized to get friends to buy-in because they really want the deal to they share it. Other sites like this are LivingSocial and Gilt’s BuywithMe.
App Store: Although the actual purchasing of apps was covered previously, the App Store has opened a mobile marketplace for anyone looking to reach consumers. Whether you are an existing retailer who has created an optimized and/or native app for shopping or you are a developer who now has a product to sell because of the App Store a whole new economy has exploded: Tim Cook announced at the Apple 2012 WWDC that Apple has paid out over $5 billion to developers.
Social Media: Facebook, Foursquare, Pinterest…social media platforms of scale are now shopping meccas and not just for the savvy who can figure out how to cut through the clutter and find the fabulous. When Facebook introduced their “Like” social plug-in as part of their Open Graph in 2010, ecommerce sites took note and saw it as an opportunity to get shoppers to evangelize via their newsfeed. Everyone from QVC to Urban Outfitters started using Facebook “Like,” sending the message that “Liking” is not just for media.
Foursquare, the service that really took off at the 2010 SXSW, also has a heavy bent on shopping with badges that reward activities like checking into certain types of stores frequently and a recent program with American Express that literally gives you $5 back when you check-in to a participating establishment.
Pinterest is becoming a sales force to be reckoned with—both as a source of referring traffic and as a recommendation engine of sorts. As users pin images from across the web and from their personal libraries they are expressing themselves through imagery, categories and tags and the platform encourages sharing…some even use it as a wish list.
Unified Shopping Carts: Remember going to a shopping mall and driving around to stop at Banana Republic for mom and Old Navy for your brother and GAP for you? Maybe they were located at completely different corners of the shopping center and trekking from one side to the other was a huge effort. Well, before 2008, the same could be said of their website beacsue shoppers had to go to three distinct URLs to buy from the apparel giant. But along with the acquisition announcement of Athleta, GAP also announced that shopping all four brands—GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Piperlime—would be a unified and tabbed experience and would only assess one shipping fee. Other retailers like the Sears/Kmart portfolio and (although less overtly) Amazon/Endless/MyHabit do the same thing and it’s awesome.
Online Pre-Purchase & Pick-Up: It was easy to see how event and airline tickets would make use of this, and so that’s not the focus here. When the lunchtime rush is daunting but you really need some fresh air, or you have to get your groceries but don’t have time to go aisle by aisle, this innovation comes in handy. Seamless Web is a great example of the former making ordering easy and lots of eateries from small mom and pop chains to the big-time guys have entered the market. It’s usually some variation of a user being able to pick out the meal they want, order it and then set a time for pick up (or if desired, a delivery option is also usually available). For groceries, sites like FreshDirect lets users shop for grocery items and opt to either pick up or deliver. Among the pioneers in online grocery services were PeaPod, Webvan and HomeGrocer –all in the late 90s—although their focus was delivery (and of which only PeaPod remains)
Product Recommendations (aka “People Who Bought This Also Bought This”): Again Amazon lead the charge on this one. To be fair they also had the expansive inventory to draw from, even back in the day, and now this is considered a best practice for sites in any category—content, commerce, service. Here’s a fun and staggering fact: Venture Beat reported in January of 2010 that Amazon was making 20-30% of their annual sales from making recommendations. They reported over $34 billion in annual revenue in 2010… you do the math.
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