Distributed Commerce to Disrupt Online Storefronts?
The vast majority of ecommerce transactions occur in a traditional online storefront. Most ecommerce solutions include everything required for placing an order in a single shopping cart or platform — products and pricing, payment systems, order capturing, and more. These inclusive solutions integrate with other systems for financial record keeping, shipping, and inventory management.
We are on the verge of an evolution in ecommerce from traditional online storefronts to a more distributed system, wherein the ability to buy products will be embedded within content itself — in articles, blogs, and social media. Consumers will be able to buy products from a newsletter, directly from a store shelf using a QR code, a text, a tweet, or anywhere they happen to be browsing or shopping.
We are on the verge of an evolution in ecommerce from traditional online storefronts to a more distributed system, wherein the ability to buy products will be embedded within content itself — in articles, blogs, and social media.
This will allow bloggers and publishers to monetize their content by selling the products they discuss directly from their sites and encourage retailers to develop and publish more interesting content about their products.
Brands will be able to track their appeal and sales across many venues and devices. Trends and influencers will be more identifiable and measurable.
Most importantly, this system will benefit consumers by allowing them to “buy here and now” instead of linking to an online store they have never seen, or having to buy from multiple stores to assemble, say, a clothing outfit or a home audio system.
Consumers are tiring of monolithic stores. Traversing through categories or even filtering searches through thousands of products to find a few items can be frustrating. Wouldn’t it be easier to just read an article about your dream home theater system from a trustworthy site and be able to simply buy all the products now — right from within the blog or website?
The Technology Behind the Change
Back in 2009, Ecwid (a shopping cart, pronounced “eck-wid,” for “e-commerce widgets”) introduced the ability to add a shopping cart to virtually any system with just a few lines of HTML code. Ecwid’s SaaS solution handles the rest, including hosting the content and capturing the order and payment. This ability to add widgets in other frameworks opened the door to distributed ecommerce.
Today, the Ecwid solution supports more than 375,000 online merchants in more than 175 countries. To date, this solution has enabled mostly smaller merchants to quickly add ecommerce capabilities to their WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr, and Facebook pages as well many other blogging and social platforms. This empowered consumers to “buy now” regardless of where they are viewing information about a product.
However, most of the implementations I’ve seen with Ecwid are traditional — adding a product catalog and shopping cart to an online store that happens to be hosted in WordPress is very easy and a good alternative to traditional shopping carts.
Today, the Ecwid stores are as impressive and functional as any implementations done in more powerful carts like Magento or Bigcommerce. They don’t scale as well, but they meet the needs of many businesses at a low price point — both for the platform and the development. Plus, you can use WordPress as your content management system.
Here is an example of an Ecwid-powered WordPress site — developed by my wife’s firm, incidentally — that showcases the ability of developers to customize the look and feel of the cart and checkout process.
For small retailers or manufacturers, this approach for adding ecommerce is powerful, but it’s not disruptive in the way I described previously, unless they are also selling products in other online spaces like Facebook and email newsletters. Since Ecwid requires adding source code to a site, many smaller businesses stick to more traditional selling approaches that do not require programming knowledge.
Another platform that supports distributed commerce is Santu. Its founder and CEO, Steffan Klein, said that it allows consumers to buy immediately, wherever they are. Santu supports simple URLs and buttons that do not require special code to directly add a product to a shopping cart. Consumers can also scan a QR code and have that item added to a cart for immediate checkout. Santu can power either a traditional storefront or a “popup store.”
Here is a demo from Santu. Within the popup store, shoppers retain the ability to choose options, zoom in on pictures, see more details, and do the things you usually do in a traditional online store.
Santu claims you can create a store within 40 seconds. I was able to do that. Each product can be shared via a simple text link, a buy button, or directly into your social media platform. A store can be linked to a Santu-hosted storefront or tied to your own domain. By adding code to the header or footer of a page, I created a popup store on an existing site in just a few more minutes. Here is an example of a Santu store used by TurDucKen, a manufacturer of food products.
The applications of Santu are widespread. Merchants or publishers can sell products in their Tumblr blog or within their newsletters, empowering consumers to buy here and now. Your affiliates can add links directly to a popup store within their sites.
Santu is unique in that it offers support for physical and digital products, events, fund raising, donations, and subscriptions all from the same platform.
Santu is a SaaS solution. As with Ecwid, Santu has a full storefront manager to add products and manage prices, shipping, and payments. Santu offers a full range of payment options as well as integrations to many other applications, including QuickBooks. Santu does not offer some of the rich tools to customize the look and feel of the Santu hosted cart and stores. But that will likely be added over time
More Distributed Platforms to Come
The concept of distributed commerce will likely disrupt traditional online stores. It fits well with what consumers want – mobile device support, rich content, quick-and-easy checkout.