Remember the first time you bought a book on Amazon?
Amazon was among the first retailers to see the potential of e-commerce – doing business online.
Beyond consumer retail sales, e-commerce has grown to include bill paying, ordering of services, business-to-business transactions, banking and investing.
While all industries are becoming more reliant on electronic trading, new trends and technologies are again boosting the retail sector.
Retail e-commerce is continuing to “grow rapidly,” according to Forrester Research. By 2016, e-commerce is expected to grow to over $300 billion and will account for 9 percent of all retail sales in the United States.
Factors driving the boom include greater comfort with online shopping, new shopping models, mobile technology and increased promotion.
Perhaps the most significant development in expanding online shopping is wireless and mobile Internet connectivity. The advent of wireless Internet cards and open access wireless connections allowed people to shop online almost everywhere.
The next major step occurred when cell companies added data service, and users could connect to the Internet with their smartphones. Shoppers can now buy almost anything anytime, anywhere with their smartphones.
By reading a Quick Response (QR) Code, a data-intensive bar code shaped like a square, consumers can purchase items in a magazine, on a bus or at a mall.
Retailers like Kmart and Sears put QR Code “shopping walls” in airports, malls, bus stops and movie theaters. Trendwatching.com, a global trend tracking company, regards this new ability important enough to coin the phrase “m-commerce” for mobile commerce.
Point, know, buy
Another phrase that’s been created is “point, know, buy” to explain the new trend in imbedding product information in text, videos and photos.
Using invisible markers similar to tagging in Facebook photos, digital content is layered into files. For example, IKEA is linking objects in blog photos to purchase information. This is much faster than linking from text below the photo, although that is still used too. Another example is Gucci, which created clickable videos for its 2012 spring collection.
When online shopping first boomed, sites sprang up to sell everything. Some products, like clothing and furniture, had challenges that resulted in rapid failure. Now retailers are taking a second pass with new applications that reduce some barriers.
UPcloud determines sizes and measurements from images of customers via webcam. A CD is held at the waistline for a sizing reference point. North Face is testing the software, which was developed in Germany.
Online store Zazzle.com has an application called Realview that allows you to upload a picture of your room and “test” its artwork on your walls. To size your room photo to scale, you print, tape up and photograph a Zazzle Wall Marker in the spot where you want new art.
An online sales promotion tool fast gaining traction is the flash sale, involving limited time offers. The most prominent site is Groupon, which can be customized to a geographic area. Services, restaurant specials and merchandise are sold through Groupon and similar sites like DealMobs and Living Social.
Flash sales are a good way to attract new customers as well as get rid of overstock merchandise. Amazon’s new My Habit site allows Amazon vendors a central location for flash sales.
Secure online payments
The key technology making all this activity possible is secure online payment systems. PayPal remains the big player in this arena, and its versatility has allowed purchasers to use their bank accounts securely rather than credit or debit cards.
PayPal recently has introduced a new service, PayPal Access, that circumvents the need to set up an account when purchasing from a vendor for the first time.
Other vendors will be entering this lucrative environment, including Facebook, which is partnering with cell phone providers to allow purchases to be charged to telephone bills.
Cell phone banking
Banking via cell phone account is already a technology that is being used in Asia and Africa by unbanked populations. One example is the Mobile Money project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
American Express is linking credit card accounts to Twitter to allow customers to receive coupons and discounts via tweet. Major retailers participating include H&M, Whole Foods, McDonald’s and Best Buy.
Small businesses can definitely benefit by using these new technologies to promote goods and services, gain new customers and make the sales process more convenient.