Reimagining E-Commerce

For hundreds of years, retailers have perfected the art of luring in customers, serving their needs, extracting as much money as possible from them, yet keeping them happy enough to want to keep coming back.

From the intricate art of shop design, the consideration of smells, layouts, store windows, music, signage, staff outfits and training, every element has been perfected from billions of dollars of research. Physical retail design is a creative endeavor, but one powered by vast amounts of data. It’s given huge importance, and it should be — it makes a huge difference.

Most behaviors in life change slowly. We still shake hands to show we’re not yielding swords and chink glasses to show we’re not poisoning each other, but we forget how new the Internet is.

I think this best explains the complete and total lack of any imagination, focus and design that has gone into e-commerce. We may enjoy the ease of search, and find some websites rather slick, but the truth is that most e-commerce sites are little more than a content management system with nice product photography: the virtual equivalent of neon lighting and clear signage in a warehouse, a space perfected for function, but devoid of emotion, enjoyment of richness. E-commerce works well despite its design, not because of it.

So here are some thoughts on how to rethink what e-commerce could become.


It will be interesting to see how fares, because it requires consumers to enter credit card details and shipping addresses to create an account. That simple barrier could stop millions of people from bothering to save a few dollars on a TV.  Retailers need to be constantly thinking of ways to simplify commerce online. How do we automate details? Any friction must be removed. I see the future of commerce online to be as simple as a swipe right and a press-on touch ID.

Shoppable Ads

We need to understand  that every piece of real estate online is not just a storefront, but a chance to sell directly. How can retailers and technology companies start creating ads that allow transactions directly from advertisements or socially shared images?

Pop-up screens

In real life, you’d never expect to be asked for personal details at the doorway to a store, let alone be told it’s a requirement to enter — yet these remain common acts online. Statistics may show that this once improved conversion rates, but times change and data lies. We need to adopt empathy in the online environment, not be dazzled by data. The digital environment doesn’t excuse rudeness.

Delivery Charges

There is of course an extra cost to delivering items ordered online, so it’s understandable to hope to pass that cost on to customers. But today’s consumers are spoiled and demanding, with the highest expectations ever known. They see delivery charges as the cost of a retailer’s doing business, much like store rent, heating or staff salaries. The reality of life in 2015 is that every retailer needs to stop delivery fees for all but the most extreme examples. Find a way to make this work.


It’s highly likely that the majority of people who are not buying online are concerned about sizing, and that the costly return system you’ve built is due to vanity sizing or sizing inconsistency. Technology like Body Labs now allows systems giving people more confidence in buying online. A change in philosophy away from vanity sizing and toward accuracy will benefit all.


The moment of unboxing is one of the most enjoyable moments of shopping online, yet we’ve never considered it to be a brand touchpoint. As it stands, it’s a time of dirty brown boxes, generic packaging, and a boring invoice. Would it be that hard to use premium materials? Could we use the moment to tell a story about the item? Could we wrap things with care and make unboxing delightful?


It’s a horrible though,  but with online shopping, the couriers become the one human experience  of the brand. It’s not easy yet, but brands should be making investments with companies that provide a higher quality service — from delivery notifications in real time, to selecting more accurate times. This is one chance for retailers to provide a valuable point of difference.


I’m not sure why every site is focused on online shopping as a surgical exercise,  the digital equivalent of running into a store, finding an item and sprinting away.

Would it be too much to expect the site to be fast, easy, clear — yet also beautiful and fun?

From making suggestions for additional items to buy,  to richer ways to showcase products, to more interesting and intuitive navigation — there are many opportunities. We need to establish time browsing and secondary spend online as even-more-valuable metrics than those in the brick-and-mortar environment.

Total Retail

But above all else, stop thinking of e-commerce or m-commerce as a separate thing. Consumers of today have no concept of online and offline — it’s just the modern world. Our journeys don’t go from one silo to the other, they meander aimlessly between the two.  

We need to suck consumers into the same wonderful purchase experience and push them to purchase, whether it’s a desktop, mobile or physical experience. The boundaries are vital to us, but not real people.

The most successful retailers will be those who use technology well, but can also apply the knowledge of retail that legacy companies have — applying the best of both worlds to reimagine shopping for the modern age.

3 comments about "Reimagining E-Commerce".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, October 22, 2015 at 12:44 p.m.

    A well considered post, with some great points that aren't far from practiceability.

    In the Goodwin vision of e-commerce, what keeps value conscious customers from price shopping? 
    If 86% of brick and mortar shoppers (Shopatron data) use smart phones with price comparison aggregators like PriceGrabber, Red Laser, etc, how many more are hunting on when buying desire is created on the Net?  

    Is a significantly upgraded on-line user experience going to translate to increased revenue?  Is there a correlation between web efficiency and purchase loyalty?

    Will a three tier distribution model survive the next 20 years?  This is an existential question for every retailer, no less at Wal-Mart, whose success has been built on it's most efficient operator status using a model that may now be outdated.

    The retailers who will do well are those who erase the line between bricks and mortar and e-commerce.  Nordstrom is an example that immediately comes to mind.  When shopping there I get great, informed advice and customer service.  It makes little difference if the merchandise comes off the shelf in front of me or is shipped from a nearby store. And there's no hesitation in buying online because I know the local store will take it back if it is not satisfactory for any reason.
    Great service and no friction = customer loyalty.  

  2. Steven Osborne from Osborne pike, October 22, 2015 at 12:52 p.m.

    Insightful article as ever Tom, it's as if we're so spellbound that e-commerce can even happen that delight is not yet a requirement. In my world of packaging design we've been thinking a lot about the 'unboxing' moment, a new touchpoint as yet little utilised apart from a big pile of money-off leaflets from 'affiliates' of the deliverer. I wrote about this topic in a recent Linked-In post here:

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 22, 2015 at 4:03 p.m.

    You mention costs, high costs that can put an online company out of business, not that they should have been in business in the first place. is very expensive. It is so very easy to pick up that stuff which is five minutes away for a lot less money. Who would you trust to squeeze your tomatoes ?

Next story loading loading..