The COVID-19 pandemic put us on a fast track to a digital-by-default world. In this world, e-commerce is no longer a “channel” for consumers; it’s a way of life. In this world, every business is an e-commerce business. The question isn’t whether you need an e-commerce platform; it’s which one makes the most sense for your business.

Fortunately, there are plenty of choices. This post highlights a few.

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E-commerce is no longer a “channel” for consumers; it’s a way of life. Which e-commerce platform makes the most sense for your business?

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The battle for your e-commerce business

Over the past year, we’ve observed some platforms grow exponentially. Some are well-suited for creating online stores for small to medium-sized companies; others are designed to meet the complex needs of larger global brands. For some, the best route may be extending functionality of an existing ERP or CRM system.

Another option altogether is to sell through e-commerce giants like Amazon or Alibaba. In their “shop-in-shop” model, they provide the search, shelf space, checkout, logistics and fulfillment, but commercially and legally, your business is the one selling the products.

Consider, too, platforms like TaoBao from Alibaba, where tens of millions of Chinese offer their products and services, often as small business owners or (partially) self-employed people. With more than 300 million Chinese shopping on TaoBao, this year the platform may even top US$1 trillion in sales (that’s in addition to Alibaba revenue). TaoBao reflects Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma’s vision that any company should be able to trade with any customer anywhere in the world; his company will take care of the fulfillment.

The China market offers another potential platform in Tencent and the billion-plus people who use its WeChat service. In China, everything happens in chat – from interacting with your family and friends and managing your career, health, hobbies and lifestyle to buying and selling goods and services. WeChat offers solid proof that anything can be translated into chat; whether or not people like a chat-based experience is a matter of cultural preference.

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Facebook: e-commerce revolution on the horizon?

If you have liked, celebrated or shared photos and updates on Facebook or Instagram, the next option may seem surprising – at least at first.

With the launch of Facebook Discovery Commerce, the company aims to underpin its whole suite – Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram – with an integrated e-commerce solution. To put it another way, Facebook wants to make it possible for every Instagram account to be an e-commerce shop, too.

Beyond global scale, there are several aspects of the Facebook Discovery Commerce concept that warrant interesting observations. One is the integration. Imagine browsing product photos on Instagram, adding a product to your cart, going to a Facebook page for more detail, and asking a question to an influencer via WhatsApp. When you’re ready, you seal the deal by making your purchase via Facebook Pay.

Second, like several other e-commerce solutions out there, its pricing model allows small business owners to set-up shop quickly and freely, leaving any charges for later, as they start selling, in a pay-as-you-go model. This lowers the threshold for many small businesses, as they try and pivot from physical stores into an e-commerce-first business model.

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The name Facebook Discovery Commerce underscores the third point of interest: discovery. It’s no secret that Google owns search. More than a decade ago it also pioneered the concept of the Zero-Moment-of-Truth (ZMOT). Since then, companies across industries have crafted entire marketing strategies and campaigns around the concept. But even before the ZMOT occurs, a consumer’s brain needs a stimulus. What prompts an idea or urge? What causes a consumer to feel a need? What births an intent?

While search can help, consumers only know what they know. That’s where discovery comes in. It’s a capability that Facebook has enabled by connecting billions of people in their lifestyles, activities, achievements, emotional roller-coasters and social communities. Interactive and pictorial by nature, Facebook and especially Instagram provide a venue for our visually oriented brains to exchange ideas and learn. This offers the interesting insight that any social platform with similar community, influence and discovery characteristics can play an important role in e-commerce going forward.

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Edwin Van der Ouderaa

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Customer, Sales and Service

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