If you want to beat Amazon, be memorable.
Let me explain to you why I think “Experiential Commerce” is the new e-commerce. This will equip you to beat Amazon by playing a different game.
In Welcome to the Spontaneous Internet, I discussed how ‘hanging out online’ is undergoing a large-scale shift towards virtual spaces that are spontaneous, social and raw.
The early adopters of this movement are all providing users with virtual counterparts of the physical interactions that were once the cornerstones of their relationships with one another.
While some platforms have been quick to embrace spontaneity, the world of ecommerce has yet to provide us with a digital replica of the all important shopping mall.
Instagram has given us the “Instagram Shop”, but in doing so, has forgotten about what makes traditional shopping memorable.
The shopping mall is an experience.
Maybe I’m romanticizing this a little bit because my family owned a store in a shopping mall but there was something special about the mall.
It is an inherently social space. Thousands of human interactions take place during a visit to the mall that don’t take place by clicking into the Instagram Shop tab.
Employees of department stores offer personalized service based on chatting back and forth. They make human suggestions that algorithms can’t quite quantify.
Malls encourage impulse purchases, treasure hunting and exploration. Shoppers wander into stores they didn’t set out to visit.
Some of the best purchases are the most surprising or random ones.
“People who like this, also like this” recommendation engines are a robot substitute for this organic feeling of discovery.
Malls are also places to gather and socialize. Teenagers explore newfound freedom by riding public transit to the mall downtown. The elderly make regular visits to stores where clerks know their names and preferences. Babies take the mall in from their strollers.
Let’s be real, handing a baby the Amazon app doesn’t have the same effect.
Going to the mall is also like a game: who will you see there? Where will you go? What will distract you from your shopping list? You might even fall in love.
The mall is a slot machine. It’s social, bustling and fun.
That is exactly what ecommerce is missing today.
Ecommerce took the social, experiential act of shopping and reduced it to transactions.
Look something up on Google or Amazon and purchase the first thing that pops up. Maybe look around for one with good reviews. The process is linear and isolating.
But this is changing. e-commerce is becoming more engaging, more human and more entertaining.
Whereas lowercase “e”-commerce was named for its once innovative quality of simply being electronic, I believe it's due for a rebrand -- something more indicative of where the world is at.
Capital “E” commerce
Ok, here comes the good stuff…
Experiential means entertaining. It means occupying a space and doing so live.
If you want to invent the future of ecommerce, invent the future of entertainment.
The best new E-commerce platforms will be the most entertaining ones.
I believe that they will have 3 main things in common.
E-commerce platforms will be spatial and live and fun. They will also sell as many digital goods as they will physical ones.
While these experiences won’t replace Amazon, they will play a huge role in shaping how we buy online.
Spatial E-commerce is the cure to two dimensional, transactional ecommerce. Its two key ingredients are digital spaces and digital avatars.
1. Digital Spaces
Spatial environments can range from the real world around us to immersive new ones.
Spaces can be as futuristic as mixed reality, as immersive as virtual reality or as familiar as 3D video game worlds. They can even be as simple as Figma workspaces or the little bubbles that appear when someone is typing.
Spaces are a place for people to be and to see each other online.
When it comes to digital spaces for Experiential Commerce, spatial will give us somewhere to shop. In order to experience something, we need a space to experience it in.
Think about how an online experience like a concert will be transformed through spatial.
Today, would you pay to watch a concert on Youtube? Would you feel compelled to buy the artist’s merch after the show by clicking on a link in the description of the video? Would you tell your friends to attend the concert at the same time as you?
What if Youtube was a digital Madison Square Garden? What if you could meet up with your friends and walk to the stadium together? What if merch was sold in a booth outside the venue?
With spatial, virtual concerts and other online experiences will become all the more real.
You will occupy a space with others and experience something special together, in a moment. You will know that the moment will end.
You will purchase a digital souvenir after the show to commemorate the experience, knowing you will have opportunities to show it off online.
You will definitely bring your friends along for the ride and chat the whole time. Events will be immortalized as a shared experience for you all.
This was my experience with the Travis Scott concert in Fortnite, a 15 minute live event experienced by myself and over 12 million others. After the concert I purchased a piece of digital memorabilia to commemorate the experience.
And it all took place on the Fortnite Island, down by Sweaty Sands.
That’s the thing with spatial: in the future when you ask where digital events took place, there will be an answer.
The internet will be made of spaces to be experienced, shared and shopped.
2. Digital Avatars
Another key facet of spatial for E-commerce is avatars for us to embody. Where there’s a space, there’s often someone in it.
Avatars will shape how we perceive spatial tech. 8-bit characters from retro Pokemon games and hyper-realistic metahumans powered by Unreal Engine give off very different impressions.
Regardless of which side of the realism spectrum your avatar exists on, one thing is for sure: they will allow us to be ourselves, or someone else completely, online.
Avatars restore another important aspect of the shopping experience to E-commerce: people.
People make shopping social and social is a lot of fun.
Imagine getting into an exclusive clothing brand’s store online with your friends.
Imagine taking a virtual tour of a winery with your partner.
Imagine experiencing a packed virtual nightclub.
Imagine buying a real Tesla in a virtual showroom.
Imagine being toured around the vehicle and given the opportunity to sit behind the wheel and check out the interior.
Imagine taking it for a test drive and feeling how it handles in the virtual world.
These are the meaningful, social, E-commerce experiences of the future, powered by spatial.
By embodying an avatar in digital spaces we will finally be able to experience the digital.
E-commerce will happen in real time.
Before the internet, shopping was always live. You had to be somewhere, in a particular moment in order to make a purchase.
With E-commerce, we will return to shopping in the moment. Apps will thrive on opening and closing hours. Be there or be square.
A precursor to this phenomenon is shopping from live streams.
Amazon’s new Amazon Live feature is a cross between daytime TV infomercials and Twitch streaming. An Amazon affiliate walks viewers through the features, strengths and weaknesses of products while answering their questions from the chat and keeping things moving.
In this case, shopping live creates a connection between the viewer and the products that the seller is telling them about. It feels less likely that you will get scammed on an online purchase when you are seeing the product functioning in someone’s living room.
Another current example of live E-commerce is Whatnot, a live auction platform for niche products like Pokemon cards, sports cards and Pop! Funkos.
Viewers can chat with other enthusiasts in auctions and experience the excitement of bidding on collectibles in real time.
Though shopping from livestreams is an emerging trend in North America, these shopping experiences are extremely popular in China on platforms like Alibaba’s Taobao Live and Douyin.
Livestream ecommerce is an approximately $60B industry in China and top live streamers are celebrity influencers. China also has the highest rate of ecommerce as a percentage of total retail sales of any country and remains trending upwards.
Shopping live is the purest form of ecommerce as entertainment. It is exciting, in the moment and often a bit of a competition. Bidding wars, a good host and a lively chat makes shopping fun again.
An E-commerce experience that is both spatial and live, should inherently be fun as well.
In the same way that bored teenagers flocked to the shopping mall on evenings and weekends for something to do, E-commerce should provide much of the same within the digital realm.
The place to be, regardless of intent.
Experiencing a spatial environment through an avatar is a natural extension of our in-person interactivity and therefore would need to be fun to be engaging for us to join in.
Luckily, the ceiling for creativity within virtual environments is infinite.
E-commerce will harness that potential.
While the creativity of a brick and mortar retail experience is bound to the bureaucracy of corporate hierarchies and access to ample time and resources, E-commerce is not.
At this very second there are thousands of people online willing and able to craft a thoughtful virtual experience with nothing more than some code and a good idea.
While in-person retail leverages experiences to sell goods, E-commerce takes a different approach: selling goods as a by-product of an experience.
A well-thought out E-commerce experience will aim to engage customers first.
The organizational structure of in-person shopping means that anywhere you go, there is likely a salesperson standing over your shoulder, trying to meet a quota.
While this might be pleasant for some, it can also be massively deterring for others.
An E-commerce experience will not feel as though the mission is sales.
Rather, it will create an environment so enthralling that shoppers will actively seek to purchase the product associated with the experience.
E-commerce will influence product offerings
With the rise of spatial and new virtual environments to shop in, the goods we purchase will change too.
Online stores will no longer be a place to purchase exclusively physical goods, destined to be shipped to us. We will purchase (and invest in) virtual goods to display, use and enjoy online.
Fortnite and Roblox are early examples of this phenomenon wherein players buy skins, emotes and accessories for their virtual characters using an in-game currency which is often purchased using a real-world one.
Virtual sneaker app Aglet presents users with the opportunity to purchase virtual versions of sneakers they couldn’t possibly get their hands on in the real world.
These types of digital economies will become the norm in the near future because once we begin embodying spaces online, how we present ourselves matters.
Digital goods will be facilitated by NFTs. They will also shape what’s for sale.
NFTs facilitate the ownership of new kinds of goods. They make things more meaningful than a physical product, ownable.
Is a pair of game-worn Air Jordans valuable because of the plastic and leather they’re made of? Or are they valuable because of the punishing dunk Jordan delivered over a 7-foot defender while wearing them?
With NFTs, that dunk, that moment, is made ownable.
If you wanted to beat Amazon, be memorable
Thanks for reading & be well,
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