Catalyst is fast becoming one of our favourite times of year. The conference brings together the heaviest hitters in the industry, to deliver key information - straight from the source.

Hosted by marketplace management software giant ChannelAdvisor, the conference benefits from the knowledge derived from the staggering amount of data that passes through the platform each year.

This year, ChannelAdvisor CEO and Co-Founder Scot Wingo presented the opening keynote, and his take on the statistics to date. In an interpretation which immediately won over our team, the e-commerce landscape was portrayed as a ‘Game of E-Commerce Thrones’, using the bloodthirsty backdrop of Westeros to explain the current state of e-commerce.

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The marketplaces were the players, equivalent to noble families at war, vying for domination. These are the usual suspects, Amazon, eBay, Google, Apple, Facebook and Alibaba.

Many people will be surprised at the sheer scale of Alibaba’s volume dominance, with a turnover of $363bn which comfortably eclipses Amazon’s $174bn and eBay’s $83bn.

However, these statistics were then skewed in alternative directions, to highlight the fact that Facebook’s user base of 1.4bn dwarfs nearest rivals Amazon, with users totalling 270m.

IMG_4377With different attributes and strengths, each of the marketplace players were then analysed across five ‘kingdoms’ the territories over which the various parties compete. These 'kingdoms' were Consumers, Mobile, Payments, Zero-Friction, and Cross Border Trade. These five areas were used to analyse the performance of each party, and judge each one as either a leader, or a laggard.

Importantly, whilst it is necessary to take stock of current positions, it was equally interesting to gain some insight into the predicted ‘next steps’ in each area, either product development, or acquisition, which shapes the future for each marketplace, and indeed the e-commerce landscape as a whole.

 

 1. Consumers

The consumer debate can be summarised as convenience vs value. In short, whether a customers is willing to pay a premium for an enhanced service, or if a customer is willing to make sacrifices and wait for the best price. The lesson here is to determine which type of customer you are looking to attract, and arm yourself accordingly (unless you are Amazon, and able to invest untold sums to cover both options!).

Millennials also played a key role in the consumer debate, with the powerful buying group of 18-34 year olds proving increasingly elusive for digital marketers, despite being undeniably an ‘always on’ demographic. This sparked the debate into ‘chat commerce’ and the importance of social. This was deemed a benchmark of the future of e-commerce, a representation of generations to come.

 

2. Mobile

Mobile has cropped up as a key topic for the last couple of years, but somehow always seems to maintain a heightening sense of importance.

The evolving relationship between mobile and social is at the heart of the debate, with Facebook alone generating $12bn in the last year on mobile. This proves that mobile is more than theory, it is tangible increasing revenue.

Again, each individual player was analysed, and the dynamics were particularly interesting. The temporal nature of Twitter was examined, and deemed perfect for flash sales/end of line, whilst some major platforms including eBay and Amazon were criticised as laggards here – Google in particular was heavily chastised largely thanks to the perpetually floundering Google Plus.

The moral of the story? Retailers can’t ignore mobile, this channel needs attention in it’s own right, as well as consideration in the context of social and wider marketing strategies.

 

3. Payments

IMG_4392With eBay and PayPal due to part company, payments was a particularly interesting area of analysis. Marty Ellis, Head of Professional Selling at eBay confirmed that there would be no upheaval for eBay customers as a result of the split, and that eBay were simply trying to give greater choice to the consumer. However, Wingo highlighted that an independent PayPay would surely be an acquisition target for any platform looking to bolster their payment options, namely Facebook and Google. The split itself will not take full effect until late 2015, so there is plenty of time for this to unfold.

 

The dark horse of the group was perhaps Apple, with just short of a billion users with a credit card on file thanks to iTunes. This means that Apple Pay was tipped to be a future leader, earmarked for rapid growth over the coming years, cornering payments, mobile as well as emergent tech such as print recognition.

 

The moral of the story for the retailer? Keep your options open and constantly review. We regularly review payment options for our clients as the landscape is changing quickly, and small percentages at checkout can make a large impact on revenue. Payments are a crucial area for the retailer to provide the customer with value, and accommodate preferred payment methods, across devices and platforms.

 

4. Zero Friction

As an overarching theme to the entire day’s presentations, it is safe to say that time is of the essence for the online consumer. Time on site, time at checkout, and delivery time – all have to be minimised ultimately. The benchmark as been set by Amazon, with the model of bringing the product closer to the consumer, and with over 100 distribution centres worldwide, Amazon are the runaway leader.

Delegates were urged to think outside the box to minimise friction. For example, consider using FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) to improve efficiency, as well as incorporating Bricks to Clicks initiatives such as Click & Collect at Argos, the eBay enterprise which is already gaining momentum.

To exemplify radical thinking, Jet.com was referenced, which represents a new model whereby consumers fill a basket, and retailers bid on the basket, rather than individual products. This has numerous advantages of reducing packaging and fulfilment costs, and therefore the ultimate cost to the customer. It’s for this reason that Jet.com has managed to achieve a valuation of nearly $600m before it has even launched.

5. Cross Border Trade

As marketplaces gather pace, international boundaries are being broken down. This means that it’s easier than ever for retailers to tap into overseas markets. A customer is a customer regardless of their location, which forms an increasingly less significant barrier than previously.

This led to an interesting discussion point centred around the advantage of direct to consumer commerce, which reverses the marketplace philosophy, in favour of brands keeping and cultivating their own customers. This seems to make perfect sense, as competition heightens, the value of hanging on to a customer increases.

This is something that we champion and pro-actively encourage, and help retailers do on a daily basis. It also seems like a fitting conclusion, with so many leaders out there in each individual area, the importance of maintaining your own customer base is paramount, as this consolidates your business against the shifting forces that we have mentioned in this blog. Marketplaces and developments should be leveraged, but always with a view to extracting maximum value for your direct offering, as this is the key to cementing your own future in the Game of E-Commerce Thrones.

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