10 years from now Ecommerce is dead, long live ecommerce


Ecommerce, both the word and the concept as we understand it today, will die within the next 10 years. Before the luddites amongst you throw a party to celebrate a return to a simpler world where corner stores serve all your needs, Monday to Saturday, between 11 in the morning and 7 in the evening, let me throw some water on the parade by writing an article instead of a tweet. Ecommerce can broadly be broken down into three parts: you, the valuable customer who’s always right, browsing through a catalogue of products on a website; paying for the products using a credit/debit card or in cash when they are delivered; and a logistics and delivery system that goes to work as soon as you place an order so it reaches you as quickly as possible. This model revolves around a web 1.0 worldview. It requires you, the customer who belongs to a Sec A audience and owns at least one car, to actually visit a website. The more modern online retail operations have expanded to social networks like Facebook, ensuring you can like a product before you buy it. Retailers like Levi’s show you which friends of yours like the pair of jeans you’re looking at. And in the next year or so, your timeline may well be flooded with other verbs as retailers go into overdrive, informing the social graph of every customer about their wonderfully decisive purchases. The world, however, is changing very quickly. So, I’m going to go out on a limb to bet what little reputation I have as a rational thinker on three major changes that will completely transform the way we shop in 10 years’ time.

NUMBER ONE Websites are becoming increasingly less relevant. As more and more people buy smartphones, we have an app for whatever it is that we want to know or do. On a PC (really, you, the customer who travels abroad every year, still owns a PC?) access to the data and services on the internet are controlled through the browser. On the mobile, we’re accessing online data and services primarily through apps. In 10 years’ time, it’s safe to assume that the smartphone will be a feature phone and Apple will be selling iMods — chips for our brains that allow us to be plugged into data streams all the time. In essence, some of us will be living in two worlds simultaneously and the store we visit in either will be very similar. Choosing a product from either will feel the same; after all, we’ll be adding things to a cart, not clicking on an ‘add to the cart’ button. And checking out will be similar as well. I’m not suggesting the online world will be more like the real world, a la bad virtual reality movies from the last century, but that the real world will be more like the dot-com world — physical retail outlets will offer a large variety of products without stocking them physically in their own stores.

NUMBER TWO: Paper money is going to be a rarity, perhaps even a party trick or the highlight of a museum tour. Credit card companies won’t disappear, but cards well might. We may be paying using our mobile phones or the chips in our head. The point being, there will be no real difference in the manner in which we make and receive payments online or in the real world. This will remove another important distinction between physical commerce and electronic commerce.

NUMBER THREE: Just-intime logistics will have reached a whole new level. Why carry something you’ve liked at a store home when it can be delivered at an address of your choosing. This makes a lot of sense to the retailer, allowing him to save money on valuable real estate, delivery and storage charges. In fact, the size of the store can be directly related to the number of people they hope to serve at any single point of time, rather than the number of products they hope to stock and sell. These three things, if they happen in the way I’m imagining them, will break down the walls we have created between online and offline shopping. We’ll be living in a world where we’ll shop without worrying about these distinctions. There are many obvious positives for retailers and consumers. For example, non-availability of a product will be a thing of the past. Children born the latter half of this decade will not be able to properly process the concept of something being out of stock. After all, if it isn’t physically present in the store, it’ll still get delivered to them in doublequick time. Ecommerce as we know it will be dead. But, commerce and trade, in all its glorious variations will thrive in a world where there will be more people and more choice than ever before. Ten years from now.


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