In a past life -- before the rise of Web 2.0, Facebook and the social web as we understand it today -- I ran a small digital design shop in Stockholm. Back then Web Strategy and Web Design meant the same thing for an online business. Your online presence was your website and that was it.
With this is mind, a common brief from our customers was to disable all external links. If visitors by some miracle found your site through offline promotions, display ads or search, then why would you allow or even encourage them to move on?
The Evolution of E-Commerce
Over the years that have passed, I have witnessed the deconstruction of websites as one part after the other have been moved elsewhere. Support to Twitter, Forums to Facebook, Blogs to Tumblr and now Medium, Videos to YouTube and now Snapchat, Opening Hours and Directions to Google Maps, Images to Instagram and so on.
These networks have outperformed and replaced the value of company websites by unifying identities, connecting social and interest graphs and being seamlessly integrated with each other. Reluctantly, businesses have given up on custom solutions to accept that they need to be where their customers are with everything except for the most essential part their online presence: their e-commerce.
Why oh why is this last part of brand's otherwise so networked online strategy kept proprietary? The answer is that they will for as long as their customers allow it.
Build Your Own Brand
E-commerce platforms like Amazon, Etsy and eBay have mastered discovery through search and have perfected onsite optimizations in terms of payments, shipping and returns. For an online business, this shopping experience is easily replicable with any SaaS e-commerce platform and does not provide enough unique value to the end-consumers for them to demand the migration of e-commerce to one of the said platforms.
In a recent blogpost Benedict Evans writes, "Amazon is Google for products, but we have no Facebook for products." This experience will be defined by an e-commerce platform that in a scalable way surfaces the products you want but are not yet looking for. Only then will customers actively go to this online destination, instead of finding the brand's website on Google or the corresponding product page on Amazon. This platform will be social with brands and shoppers, connecting with each other to create micro-ecosystems within the network. Content will be rich, unique and frequently updated, bringing back customers often - perhaps this content will be products, conversations, reviews, collections, or a combination of all.
At Tictail we're trying to fill this gap. We launched as the Tumblr of e-commerce in May 2012 with the strong belief that e-commerce too should be networked. We took a supply-first approach by providing a simple tool to create a beautiful, free online store and were able to quickly attract hundreds of thousands of brands from all over the world. With more than 2.5 millions unique products on the platform today, we have since transitioned to become a destination (like Medium) rather than a distributed network (like Tumblr.)
We, or someone else, will be successful in this approach and customers will demand the migration of e-commerce to this network. What follows will be the death of online shops and consequently the brand website will be fully transformed into a vanity property and hub we hold on to serve the older generation (that in writing this I probably belong to.)