The Steady Drumbeat of the Global M-Commerce Revolution
The next-gen e-commerce player is globally minded and logistically savvy, with an eye firmly fixed on the opportunities presented by mobile. If you think this sounds like Amazon, you're right. However, it also applies to countless other etailers and service providers positioning themselves for growth in 2013.
The E-Commerce Times caught up with executives at four such companies to get their take on the trends that will shape this year. A common theme emerged throughout the interviews: The face of e-commerce is global; it's fueled by increasingly savvy and complex logistics planning, and it's heavily focused on mobile.
It's a Small World
Executives at China-based Alibaba.com are pleasantly surprised by the level of demand they see coming from various points around the globe.
"We are seeing more and more demand -- not only from China, but from Russia and emerging markets -- for e-commerce traded goods," Annie Xu, general manager of Alibaba, told the E-Commerce Times.
U.S. companies are also focused more on selling to international markets, she said, and that's a good thing, because much of the demand the company is tracking is for higher-quality products from the U.S.
"China consumers worship foreign goods, especially U.S. goods, and they are willing to pay more for products from the U.S.," Xu said. "It is the same with Russia -- there is demand for higher-quality products from the U.S."
The Logistics Piece
Creating a global presence can be daunting, though. Developing effective logistics and distribution processes can be a headache for a smaller firm.
However, that has been slowly changing, and even more progress is expected this year for e-commerce companies, especially those tapping international markets.
"Behind the scenes, logistics will continue to improve," Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, told the E-Commerce Times. "There will be advances in major marketplaces to enable logistics, especially across borders."
The growth of cloud computing will allow developers to build products and offer services that will help smaller merchants compete against the larger retailers, he noted.
Cost-effectively staging their products closer to the consumer "is one way we will see the growth of this kind of infrastructure and logistics," Effle said.
Another example is Amazon Locker, an initiative that allows consumers pick up their online purchases at secure locations.
Online service providers will also be instrumental in helping merchants better engage with their customers, following Amazon's lead, Effle continued. "Customer engagement is very important in e-commerce, and we are starting to see more activity in this area for smaller companies."
There will be stepped-up investments, developments in content marketing, and products that encourage interaction with customers, he predicted.
2013 will be the year that retailers take mobile seriously in all its forms and in all areas of the company, predicted Rob Murphy, VP of marketing at Swirl.
Of course, etailers have been highly aware of the need to employ mobile as another channel for the customer, but brick-and-mortar retailers are opening their eyes to the possibilities as well, he said.
"2013 will be the year we see a transformation of mobile from a standalone channel to a bridge or integration between the online and physical world," Murphy told the E-Commerce Times. "That is highest-level driver that I think will take place in retail this year."
Consider Walmart's mobile initiatives, for example. "They are looking at the smartphone as a tool that can enhance the shopper's experience inside the actual store," Murphy noted, "whether it is sending people offers or doing things like scanning at checkout."
This year, more retailers will follow Walmart's lead and find ways to take advantage of mobile communications while customers are in the store.
There is an undeniable need for retailers to be as mobile-enabled as possible, agreed Harry Hirschman, VP of marketing at SingleFeed.
Services and products are being developed to help etailers, especially small firms, develop mobile strategies to better compete with larger companies.
"At one time, only the biggest companies could afford the huge price tag that accompanied these kinds of projects," Hirschman told the E-Commerce Times.
"This year, small and medium-sized businesses are going to find that not only do they need to make their websites as mobile-oriented as possible," he said, but also "that there are tools and services available to help them actually do so."