We’re calling it right now: 2020 will be year of the E-Commerce Platform.
Platforms like Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce are already home to hundreds of thousands of active storefronts, but it looks to us like they’re just getting started. The democratization of e-commerce is moving forward rapidly, and it’s becoming easier by the day for anyone, anywhere, to set up a storefront and start making money. At Toucan AI, we think a lot about where the e-commerce space is headed, and we’re excited to see where this trend takes us. We try to consider the e-commerce store owners of tomorrow, and to anticipate what their needs will be. So, here are some thoughts on what we believe will be the hallmarks of the Shopify Revolution as it continues to turn traditional e-commerce on its head.
Many of the early success of e-commerce revolved around giving everyone access to everything. It’s the philosophy that underpins Amazon – whatever you’re looking for, wherever you are, they probably have a version of it that can get to you in under 48 hours. This is fabulously convenient, of course, but it often comes at the cost of quality. Amazon as an entity does not have a deep knowledge of toothbrushes or mattresses or luggage; when it comes to ascertaining the quality of their products, your guess is as good as theirs. Lately, with the prevalence of fake reviews and counterfeit products, ordering something on Amazon can feel like quite a gamble.
The rise of the Direct to Consumer (D2C) Startup seems like an effort to solve this glaring flaw in Amazon’s model, and platforms like Shopify have an enormous impact on lowering the barrier-to-entry. Today, anyone with the passion and know-how to create an incredible product can set up an online storefront and get that product in front of millions of consumers, all in a matter of days. There’s no need to be a skilled web developer, or even to know how to write a single line of code – e-commerce platforms take care of that part, letting entrepreneurs focus on crafting their dream product. As more people become aware of how easy it is to use a platform like Shopify, we expect to see a dramatic rise in the number of D2C product startups and small businesses, all over the globe. These ventures will seek to differentiate themselves on the basis of craftsmanship, promising high-quality, thoughtful, innovative products created by people with deep domain expertise. Brands like Quip, Casper, and Away have already been massively successful by following this blueprint, and we expect the Shopify Revolution to encourage thousands more.
A strong, fresh, and compelling brand has been a recurring motif in recent D2C success stories. Amazon’s e-commerce presence, by way of sheer ubiquity, has managed to avoid developing much of a personality or identity. It still engenders, if not trust, then at least grudging acceptance from the world’s consumers. For an aspiring entrepreneur setting up a new storefront, however, brand is crucial. A consumer chooses a small store-front over an e-commerce behemoth such as Amazon because, at least partly, they connect with the store’s brand. As values, morals, and identity play increasingly large roles in purchasing decisions, it’s key for smaller players to make sure that their brand makes a statement and is in line with what their consumers are looking for. As the e-commerce landscape shifts in the direction of many small players, we expect to see more thought and effort going into crafting effective brands.
To facilitate this, we expect to see increased customizability in the e-commerce platform landscape. Today, many e-commerce platforms can be difficult for non-technical store-owners to customize. This has led to a proliferation of agencies and development shops dedicated to crafting sites on e-commerce platforms. However, as more store-owners recognize the importance of creating a unique store identity and standing out, we believe they will demand easier and more flexible customization from their e-commerce platforms. Nascent e-commerce businesses will understand that customization is crucial, but won’t have the time and resources to engage a third-party developer. We think this will lead to rapid growth in the scope and variety of these platforms’ ecosystems, as companies develop new and innovative ways for non-technical store-owners to customize and enhance their stores. We see ourselves as an early part of this trend, and we can’t wait to see what others in the broader ecosystem come up with!
An aspect of this trend towards customization, and one that we are particularly interested in at Toucan AI, is the transfer of elements from brick-and-mortar retail into e-commerce. Brick-and-mortar retailers have spent hundreds of years perfecting strategies for impressing customers and encouraging purchases. The sheer choice and convenience offered by e-commerce can convince many consumers to choose it over brick-and-mortar, but we believe smaller e-retailers still can and will learn many things from their more tangible brethren. Many stock e-commerce platforms, for example, do little to add excitement or variation to their catalog listings. However, by adding features such as frequently-changing product spotlights (analogous to in-store displays) and even virtual “store-within-a-store” experiences for subsets of the catalog, online store-fronts can capture some of the excitement that often accompanies a real-life shopper’s customer experience. Since e-commerce is a relatively small but rapidly growing portion of the global retail market, we expect more ideas from traditional retail to flow into e-commerce settings.
Finally, we think the wave of new e-commerce businesses will place a high value on scalable ways to engage with customers one-on-one. We see this as one of the key elements of brick-and-mortar retail that many online storefronts currently lack; unlike shopping in stores, shopping online can often feel bewildering and overwhelming. Stores can combat this with recommendation systems, customized mailing lists, account personalization, and other measures that tweak the customer experience to each individual customer. As ML/AI tools become more well-developed and accessible, we believe they will play an increasingly large role in providing such functionality for e-commerce stores of all sizes. By leveraging these technologies, even the smallest-scale e-commerce operations can make sure that each customer feels guided, catered to, and important.
That’s all for now, time for us to get back to prepping for our upcoming Open Beta launch!
– The Toucan AI Team
Toucan AI is a platform that lets e-commerce companies set up an AI salesperson in just 3 clicks. We believe in the democratization of e-commerce, and we’re proud to be a part of the Shopify Revolution!