At a conference I attended a long time ago (probably at least a decade ago) I remember an industry analyst (don't remember who) saying something along the lines of "we'll know that e-commerce has arrived when we no longer have to put the "e" in front of it."
Well, maybe we've arrived. Over the last month there have been some declarations and murmurings that it's time to drop the "e". Forrester's Brian Walker suggested it at the Internet Retailer Conference, and a few blogs have since echoed the same.
E-commerce is undeniably a part of everyday consumer life. Much as we predicted years ago, consumers have woven the web into a shopping process that now spans channels, devices and touch points. The internet influences nearly half of all retail sales. Regardless of where the transaction occurs, the web is a vital part of the discovery, research, consideration and decision process. That's of course the argument for dropping the "e". Customers don't think of e-commerce sites as a "channel" anymore than they think of their phones or retails stores that way. So why should we?
The answer to that question (and ultimately the answer to whether or not it is indeed time to go "e"-less) lies within the perspectives and practices of the retailers and the companies that support them.
For enterprise/advanced online retailers and suppliers, dropping the "e" not only makes sense, it symbolically removes obstacles and enables bigger thinking. An enterprise level platform provider today may provide e-commerce infrastructure, but must also provide mobile, multi-channel and social commerce services in order to meet the needs of its retail customers. The entire retail commerce ecosystem is involved. Advanced retailers planning the present and future needs of their business must look at online selling in relation to all other touch points and channels. For these companies the "e" can represent a restrictive silo, limiting strategic progress.
But, what about those retailers and service partners that are successful, but not yet quite so advanced? Here's my take.
Over the last 15 years, e-commerce has become a specialized discipline, or rather, a set of specialized disciplines. While customers, thankfully, shop our websites like it was second nature, it takes channel knowledgeable people on the back side to do it well.
Think about the disciplines necessary to do e-commerce well: e-commerce merchandising, e-commerce interaction and visual design, site analytics and optimization, online marketing. If someone is a great search engine marketer, do we say they are a great marketer? Sure, we could, but calling them a great search engine marketer helps us to define their specialty.
For many companies who are either in the early stages of online selling or who to whom digital DNA is not a given, the "e" is necessary, as it provides a foundational symbol for a specialized core competency.
Just in the last month of my work I have encountered the following situations that illustrate this point:
- A mature multi-channel retailer with heavy catalog DNA and without seasoned online leadership finds that they need to build e-commerce expertise in order to fully realize the online and multi-channel potential.
- A regional brick and mortar retailer taking their business online for the first time must create new positions and processes to accommodate e-commerce
- A brand manufacturer in the midst of an extensive re-design of the e-commerce site, previously 100% outsourced, is now taking steps to own and manage their online presence internally
These guys shouldn't drop the "e". In fact, I could argue that they need to get some "e" in a big way. In a few years, as their "e" competencies mature and develop, they will likely see the benefits to dropping the "e", at least in some aspects of their business and infrastructure. But for now, the "e" serves a valuable purpose. It delineates commitment to learning and growing the channel.
Are you ready to go "e" free? Take an honest assessment of where you are in your online competency:
- Do you have knowledgeable online specialists who are experts in their disciplines?
- Is the online channel at the table for all company strategic discussions and is it a part of all/most major company initiatives?
- Are the other channels at the table for strategic discussions about the online channel? Is there a cross/multi-channel component to all /most web initiatives?
- Do your operations and IT teams support and build solutions that encompass multiple channels and touch points as a matter of course?
- Is being digitally savvy a characteristic of most employees in your company, regardless of what department they work in?
If you've answered "yes" to all or most of these questions, you've already dropped the "e", at least figuratively.
If you answered "no", the e-commerce team is likely the digital center of gravity in your organization, or it might be just getting up and running. You probably need that "e", at least for a while.
So, is it time to drop the "e"? Maybe yes. Strategically. Where it makes sense.
For some, holding on for a while is a smart move.
Then there's the selfish side of me. As someone who uses ecommerceconsulting.com as her blog, I'm a bit attached to the "e", at least for the time being.