The future of Online Retail

I had the opportunity to ponder the state of online retail lately and came up with 5 topics relevant to the discussion.

Layaway
If an online retailer offered layaway I would use it.  The concept seems easy enough, enter your bank routing and account info along with the amount you would like to apply towards your purchase each month.  The retailer has a great interface for you to check on your progress and sends you email reminders each month, etc…for participating in the layaway you get a better deal from the retailer on the item.  (Layaway would make chipping away at the price of that new Mountain Bike a bit easier!)  By offering layaway the retailer would also be forging a relationship with the customer above and beyond a basic transaction.  The ease of paying bills online combined with chatter about being more responsible with personal credit creates a great environment for layaway to become reality.

Customer Service via Social Networks
@comcastcares is the twitter handle for Comcast’s customer service department.  Using twitter search tools they can monitor tweets about Comcast and respond immediately to customers.  This type of customer interaction is revolutionary.  The customer’s complaint and the Company’s response is out there for others to view.  This trend will no doubt continue as the idea of picking up a phone to call and complain about something fades.

Sustainability and Used Goods
As people care more about their impact on the environment related to consumerism they will look at 2 things: how the item is manufactured and should they buy new or used.  

Retailers like Apple and Patagonia are very transparent and offer information about their manufacturing processes which they use as a product differentiator.  Environmental impact will not be as important as product performance but it will carry weight with customers.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” will continue as a trend causing consumers to look for used or second hand goods.  Retailers need to prepare a solution to customers not wanting to buy brand new items.  

Niche Advertising
Targeted niche advertising has, of course, been around forever.  Using Facebook ads, Lijit’s ad network and other highly targeted advertising channels is becoming mandatory.

Interactive Video
The best experience I’ve had with any sort of Interactive Video was watching Obama’s inauguration on Facebook.  A high quality video stream combined with my Friend’s activity displayed on the screen making for a unique, interesting viewing experience.  This concept can certainly apply to online retailing.  Imagine a ski gear website showing a live stream of the new, cool ski movie from Warren Miller on a Friday night.  Your friends from around the world are posting comments realtime as you watch the video and see product specs and information displaying inline with your Friend activity.   

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