eCommerce. Cash cow or money down the toilet?
The question I would ask myself before starting any online business is: is it worth selling online?
Look at these numbers from the Google Consumer Barometer.
What do our potential clients do when they are online and want to make a purchase?
It seems that most people look for inspiration, compare prices and functionality or seek opinions about the products first. A few people just immediately want to buy.
After doing their research and finding inspiration, where do they buy?
It seems that despite technology, we always prefer to buy in a physical store. Bricks and mortar will never die!
When they buy online, where and what do they buy?
It seems that people love to buy from Amazon-type generalists and offer aggregators.
Looking at the overall picture, we cannot avoid asking ourselves:
Does e-commerce really sell? Is it really a useful tool for a small business?
The answer is yes…but…
“Yes, but…” because it is essential to start thinking about business from a new point of view, probably completely different from what people have explained to you in the past and what you have learned in business schools.
The time has come when it is necessary to accept change, throw away what we know and try to open the mind to the unknown.
If I think of the web in the mid-1990s, the first thing that comes to my mind is the sound of the modem making the connection.
The web was a means to send short communications and download some .mp3s from Napster. For those who remember, it took a few hours.
It was a virtual environment in which we moved in anonymity with a nickname, exploring an alternative source of information to the official teaching, a place to discuss for hours on the forums in long threads exploring the details that fascinate geeks and real nerds.
In short, in the era of Michael Jackson and Queen, the internet was still a tool unglued from people, separated from real life.
Today everything is different
The smartphone is the last object we touch before sleep and the thing that wakes us up every morning with a ringtone. Our smartphone gives us superpowers: the devices become real cybernetic appendages, extensions of our physical body with an impressive ability to interact with the environment. All reality is filtered through these new powers, whether it’s a super nerd or Aunt Betty. Some of these technologies have such an impact on the masses that they even change the way we approach the purchase of a product globally.
Let’s jump back in time: imagine the typical 80s ‘cool’ teen that blows giant bubbles with Bubbleyum, wears Ray Bans and a Members Only jacket with an Izod polo and Jordache jeans. Can we imagine how much his shopping experience was different from ours?
Let’s return to the present: today we can start the process of buying comfortably relaxed in the fairytale sunset of a Balinese beach and complete it five days later while sipping an Old Fashioned in a Manhattan club.
We often see a product on the desktop and later we buy it from mobile and vice versa. The distinction between the desktop user and the mobile user is now irrelevant: the moment changes and the purchasing tool changes but the person is the same. I shudder thinking about what these scenarios look like in prehistoric times in just 5-10 years.
What does this magnificent, fast, exciting evolution lead us to think?
That it is not possible to imagine a business, not just an eCommerce, in watertight compartments: offline or online.
I heard a successful businessman say: “I do not believe in eCommerce.” As if there was an alternative.
I took this picture of lunch in Singapore yesterday.
I sit at the table and the maid gives me a tablet from which I can order comfortably viewing the picture of the food, consult ingredients and nutritional values, visit the facebook page and Instagram, and see the reviews.
At the time of the order, the system attempts an upsell by advising the right drink. Impressed and excited by this fabulous example I find I can have the same experience at home on their website and get delivery or arrange take away.
Here a restaurant becomes an eCommerce with an omnichannel experience. But careful optimization of the user experience, of the connected services, of the points of contact, of the copywriting, of the marketing, brings this type of activity to the next level. We are talking about a Holistic eCommerce Study.
What does it mean, then, holistic, holism?
Holism is fundamentally a biological theory according to which the organism can be considered only in its totality and completeness and not as the sum of unrelated parts: each part makes sense only when inserted into the whole and, vice versa, everything subsists only in the presence of every part of it.
We could link the origins of holism to David Bohm.
Known worldwide as a theoretical physicist, Bohm is actually a halfway between a philosopher and a mystic, who has dedicated nearly fifty years of his life to scientifically exploring the theory that all parts of the universe are interconnected with each other and form an uninterrupted whole, a continuous flow.
Today, the same ideas and the same approaches are applied to practically almost the whole of everyday life, from medicine to marketing. But even the most fashionable theories such as holistic marketing, which has become a trend, should be applied in light of the opportunities offered by digital.
For example, where the consumer is increasingly at the center of the buying process, with their observed interactions exerting great influence on corporate strategies, the customer will become part of this holistic business process.
The opportunity that digital offers us today, however, is to measure, data in hand, every degree of interaction of the parts with the whole and vice versa.
A broad piece of data will allow us to understand better the importance of the processes and the holistic approach in the digital world. Today 83% of a company’s market value is represented by its intangible assets (brands, quality processes, relationships, etc. .) compared to 1975 when that figure was only 17%.
Today, the entrepreneurs and digital commerce professionals face a major challenge. They must be able to understand the whole business and understand how the various parts are related.
The process has already been going on for some time and today we are at the point where theories have become reality.
To understand how it all started I would once again go back in time to when the Cluetrain manifesto theorized: “the markets are conversations”.
The “one-to-many” linear communication model (between company and customers) has been replaced with a “many-to-many” model.
The discussion takes place at the same time in a myriad of points of communication between an incalculable number of people (consumers tweet about their negative experiences with customer service, share stories on Facebook and so on).
This is where management loses control of the brand and the brand becomes an entity nurtured by the actions and conversation of its community. With this in mind, only with a holistic vision and an integrated perspective can you choose the best strategies and tactics to provide the best tools to the community to better nourish this new entity.
To get more specific, a company always has different departments: sales and marketing, accounting and finance, product development and human resources that, although coordinated, carry out their tasks autonomously.
But if you want to look at the company as a single body, you must ensure that the research and development sector, for example, can receive feedback from the marketing and sales sector before launching a product.
At the same time, these departments will have to work closely with the company’s financial department and communicate with human resources to identify the budget and professional figures necessary to carry out that specific project.
Finally, the administration and the operations department will need to interact with everyone else to finalize the product launch plan.
Only by following a process of this kind can you reach the right customers, at the right time, because every part of the organization’s gears will mesh properly and effectively in their roles, ensuring the coordination and cooperation of the entire team is focused and informed by a clear overview of the objective.
The end point of this path will no longer be the product itself, but the customer.
The structure described above is that of a large company, but I assure you that it is applicable to companies of all sizes. It even applies to the individual entrepreneur as in the case of the Singapore restaurant.
But then what really changes between a traditional business school approach and a holistic approach?
I will try to quickly synthesize the process that we will then develop together during the lesson. We will break down the fundamental factors of an eCommerce
1. When we start a business from scratch or when we want to analyze and improve an existing one, first we study the business model that tells us how and to whom our product will be sold.
2. Then we study the User Experience and collect all the points of contact with the customer and how he or she interacts with them.
3. We carefully plan all the necessary actions to bring the product to the market so as not to lose time to market.
4. When all these components are designed, we will have all the information that we need to be able to develop our product.
Attention! The product will not be just the object or service that we will sell, but rather it will be the concept that is the sum of all the activities described above. We have a concept. Now we have to find our potential customers to power it. It is at this point that marketing comes to the rescue.
5. So we have to design a funnel to engage and cuddle them.
But it’s not enough.
6. We must follow the trends. As we have seen, the speed with which the technologies and the ways to bring a product or service fruition evolve is nothing short of frightening. Films created by artificial intelligence are already in use. Tomorrow we will interact with animated AIs. So you need to always stay on top of new developments.
7. Analysis. Today everything is measurable and this is a considerable advantage. In addition to listening to conversations and customer feedback, we will have the numbers available to validate our hypotheses in a scientific way. Today we can know everything. How customers react to our content, who reacts better, who reacts poorly, from which device … EVERYTHING!
8. With this information in hand, we can optimize the tools with which we come into contact with our existing customers and our potential customers.
Attention! We are not selling! We are creating the largest asset value of the third millennium. We are aggregating a community.
What really changes for us?
It will no longer be necessary to understand how to “place” the product on the market because from the beginning every company department will have a perfectly clear understanding of who it is working for, which buyer personas and within which process, with a holistic vision.
While in the past, the classic door-to-door salesman would have knocked all the houses of the district without distinction, focusing on the number of visits, today we will communicate directly with the interested, passionate people, those who love our product – a product that we have shaped according to the needs of the individual and the community.
We must consequently also make another profound change within ourselves. We have to radically change the way we think and the way we develop our skills.