This is Part Two (“The Deuce”) of a series I began last week (for more background on that series please revisit Part One). In the series I have asked all the smart ecommerce veterans I know what they see as the biggest opportunity in 2014.
Part One compiles answers from everyone-but-operators. Part Two (this post) compiles answers from the ecommerce operators themselves.
Together, I believe this series constitutes the most important “big-picture” post I’ll write this year. I hope it helps you to identify and capitalize on more opportunities in 2014.
Alexandra Wilkis Wilson is co-founder of Gilt where she turned the company from a start-up into a mature global enterprise. At Gilt, she has assumed multiple roles, from Chief Merchandising Officer to Head of National Sales to Head of Strategic Alliances.
We at Gilt are focused on personalization, tailoring each member’s experience to reflect that member’s preferences based on demographic information, purchasing behavior, waitlist data and click-through history.
Charlie Kim is the Founder and CEO of Next Jump. His is the quintessential entrepreneurial story, as Charlie ran the company from a one-man-show racking up credit card bills to its current position as a multi-layered corporation. Next Jump’s eco-system of blue-chip brands and high-value shoppers have made them the go-to source for loyalty and rewards programs for Dell, Hilton Hotels, and numerous others, as well as similar programs for membership organizations like AARP.
Rather than spending all your capital and giving it to Google or other marketing companies, build a destination: bring the store to the consumer and allow others (publishers mostly) to use it. Leveraging this we are now the top revenue partner to big names like Priceline, Lenovo, and 1800Flowers.
Ed Han proves the power of persistence. Having previously started two ecommerce brands, in 2003 Ed founded TinyPrints — a retailer focused on delivering customizable announcements, invitations, and greeting cards. Each year I am amazed that a higher and higher percentage of the holiday cards I receive come from TinyPrints. Shutterfly was too: in 2011 they bought the company for $350M.(In the spirit of full disclosure, I remember expressing skepticism when Ed told me over burritos that he was buying a high volume custom printer for his retailer. Why would anyone stop drop-shipping?)
I think personalization and customization still are a big opportunity for retail. Sort of like what you’re seeing with 3-D printing: personalization 2.0 versus the print-your-own-logo or text-on-a-t-shirt wave that Tiny Prints rode. I don’t mean 3-D printing is the opportunity, but more so that we may see categories that now customize to your taste/fit/need better in the future than in the past – and it’s an area not super well suited for Amazon to leverage its core strengths, a serious consideration as I think they’ve shut down a lot of retail opportunities in the past few years. Having said that, if you wanted to expand beyond retail (and I assume you mean selling a physical good or service), I think big opportunities exist in ecommerce to “fix” big problems – curation, conversion, loyalty.
Vince Jones is currently an entrepreneur in residence at Bluestem Brands (the parent company of Fingerhut). Previously, he was CEO of eBags, VP of Operations and Finance at SharpCast, and a member of the Walmart.com founding team.
Amazon competes using its advantages of low price (Scale and Amazon Buy Box competition), selection (Amazon Marketplace), and convenience (Amazon Prime). For an ecommerce company to compete successfully, they must find a way to provide true differentiation from Amazon in order to overcome these advantages.
Craig Elbert is the VP of Marketing at Bonobos. He is one of the few ecommerce marketers I know who thoroughly embrace the concept of customer-centricity, having built a data-driven program around increasing customer lifetime value.
The biggest opportunity I see are using offline experiences and media to compliment and grow the online brand. Our guideshops and physical catalog have been our largest recent growth drivers.
Andrew Youderian has founded a number of niche ecommerce stores – including TrollingMotors.net and Right Channel Radios. He is the author of Profitable eCommerce, a well-reviewed ebook on starting an ecommerce store, and his blog EcommerceFuel is a — if not the — go-to resource for all new ecommerce startups.
Podcasting is experiencing something of a renaissance lately, and for good reason: being able to personally speak to people each week helps build a strong rapport and level of trust. But I’ve yet to see any ecommerce brands utilize podcasting. It wouldn’t be a good fit for every niche or market, but I do think there’s an opportunity to stand out and market ecommerce stores via podcasting as there’s almost nobody in the market. What you’ve seen happen with content marketing for businesses, I think you may see happen with audio over the next 3 to 5 years.
Richard Lazazzera is a veteran digital marketer and ecommerce entrepreneur. When he’s not starting amazing new brands, he’s blogging about the process at A Better Lemonade Stand.
Conversion of mobile traffic. I think huge opportunity will come from Apple opening up the API for their fingerprint scanners to allow you to purchase products from any website with a finger scan. It will be bigger than Amazon’s 1-Click ordering, but likely still a ways off.
Leighton Taylor runs EcommercePulse.com, a helpful resource for anyone running an ecommerce store, from beginners taking their first steps in building a website to experienced store owners wanting to fine tune their websites and marketing.
The biggest opportunity I see right now is the potential for location independence and outsourcing for solo ecommerce startups. With fulfillment services like Shipwire and the ability to hire writers and customer service people on oDesk, it’s now possible more than ever to run an ecommerce business from anywhere in the world. One of the biggest advantages of location independence is that it allows bootstrap entrepreneurs to live on a shoestring budget while starting a business, eliminating the need for a huge cash runway or the need to work a full-time job at the same time.
Google’s recent changes are favoring the big box stores so it’s even more important to have a content strategy put in place. Smaller shops have an opportunity to shine here because they can focus their content on a very small niche and really show off their personality. Smaller shops also tend to have tighter communities so both email and social efforts are the key to success.
I feel like online retail is still in the early stages in terms of people understanding how easy it is to start an online retail business. Many people are under the false assumption that it’s very hard, risky, and takes a lot of money. The number of people educating people about online retail is increasing, but still extremely untapped.
Miracle has been in eCommerce since 2000 starting with drop-ship from 2000-2003, then inventory-based eCommerce from 2003 and manufacturing and importing since 2005. Her sites include HipUndies.com and MiracleWanzo.com.
There is a big opportunity in being the ecommerce arm for traditional manufacturers that are right at that point where they can’t quite justify hiring in-house people, but want to “get into” ecommerce. There’s opportunity in combining the online with the offline, even as a showroom environment, or pop up shop, or other non-traditional retail environment.
The biggest opportunity in ecommerce right now is brand. I think the central concept is that your store has to offer more than products, it has to offer some sort of experience and story that customers want to be a part of or want their business to be a part of. The value to me is increasingly in the audience and the trust and not the products.
JP Canada runs several ecommerce sites including ProTeethGuard.com and another that is not suited for this family friendly web blog.
This question is like asking “what are the biggest opportunities on the internet” back in the early 90s. It’s hard for us to imagine the possibilities. The eBay, Zappos, Amazon style of e-commerce is very basic: selling widgets online. Some interesting things are happening around integrating demand (e.g. Teespring or even Kickstarter), integrating content (e.g. Thrillist, Polyvore), integrating customization (lots of these), integrating online-offline (e.g. Shopify POS), and lots more. I am personally interested in starting something in the mass customization space: e.g. only making customized products & selling it via e-commerce.
Now I’ll turn this over to you: what are these people missing? What do you see as the biggest opportunity you’d go after if you were starting over this year?