Mobile devices, and particularly smartphones, are building a silent revolution, happening at the edges of the mainstream. While many are playing Angry Birds or checking in at Foursquare, entrepeneurs have been discussing and engineering a new set of of technologies and hardware that will deeply transform commerce and culture.
The first few weeks of 2011 are rather elusive of how the talk around mobile payments will get louder. From the lively discussion at Peter Paul Koch’s blog to the recent announcement of Google allowing operator billing for their Android platform, things will get really, really interesting.
If you need further examples how deeply this affects our lives, just think about a world where you’ll travel without your credit cards, as they’ve been replaced by secure SIM cards and upcoming NFC (Near Field Communication) technologies.
E-commerce was at first a personal activity, where each user was a self-determining agent regarding products and services. With wishlists, customer reviews and ratings, recommendation or referrals it evolved into what is now usually called Social Commerce.
The past few months have brought some new patterns, that further confirmed the importance of the social graph for e-tailers as confirmed by recent studies by comScore and Performics/ROI Research , with consumers connecting with brand channels (40%), recommending products and services (32%) and finding out about new deals on social networks (37%).
Another study by Sage Pay, revealed that while on average 7% of visitors to an online store make a purchase, when directed from social media network, the percentage of visitors who will go to the transaction section goes up to 71%. Social proof is even more important for e-commerce, as Simon Black, managing director at Sage Pay, says: “The modern shopper often looks for reassurance from a positive review, a special offer to make it more affordable, inexpensive delivery options and a quick, easy and secure way to pay.”
Adding the social dimension to e-commerce websites was once difficult, but with the release of social plugins by Facebook (Like buttons, Recommendations, Activity Feed) e-tailers have now instant access to a network of more than 400 million people, used with succes by global brands like Levis or TripAdvisor. It has also expanded the reach to social services and platforms such as LivingSocial, SocialAmp or Fluid Fan Shop . And youre not limited to Facebook: with Cheap Tweet, the best deals right are delivered to your Twitter timeline, with the site picking the best ones ranked by users votes and re-tweets. Altough this latest service risks becoming obsolete with the announcement by Twitter of @earlybird.
Entertainment, by definition, is one of the more promising areas where to apply this new social dimension of shopping. Take for instance the Facebook app Tickets Together created by Disney that lets users buy tickets fo Toy Story 3, not only for themselves, but also inviting their friends.
Not only does this app makes it easy to choose where to watch the movie (local listing) but it lets you engage with the ones youd probably will watch the movie with, and invite them right on Facebook, by integrating with ticket-buying services like Fandango.com.
Exciting as it is, these are only tools and technologies. Whats really interesting are the new behaviors brought by the social web and connected consumers.
Making purchases together is one of the biggest web trends in 2010. Its easy to understand why: when users reach for their friends to get a deal (usually a minimum number of buyers is required), a viral loop is created. New models of authentication to social networks (Facebook Connect, Friend Connect, OAuth) have only made it easier and faster. From limited time offers, to price anchoring (show how much it would cost on a normal purchase), its one of the most effective ways to generate word-of-mouth.
These deals are available on social web services like Groupon, This Next, Tippr, LivingSocial, TownHog, Homerun , Milo or even as integrated applications such as Special Deal group-buy app by preferred Facebook partner Wildfire.
Groupon is the biggest player, with a simple proposal: advertise a special business offer, only valid if a certain amount of users purchase it immediately.
Launched in November 2008, it has sold over 7 million online coupons in 70 cities and is now expanding worldwide (UK, DE, ES, PT). Paying attention to small details is their main strenght: from putting a phone number on every coupon to 2 way ratings (customers rating merchants and vice-versa) it created an engaged community. Even unsubscribing from their newsletter is funny.
From June 2009 to January 2010, the number of monthly visitors went from 26,000 to over 2.1 million, increasingly engaged with an average of 2.5 visits per month for each user. And whats really amazing is that these visits are not coming from the usual sources. Last January, Facebook represented 44% of all referrals, Twitter 8% and search only around 3%.
Growth happens not only in visits but also as a platform, helping third-party developers and affiliate members get the word out about its daily specials. Groupons API has become available both as Division API (about cities) and Deals API (about daily deals for specific locations), further explored by integrating with Groupons geolocation service.
Another example on how groups and communities will become increasingly important in shopping is Woot.
The basic idea behind Woot is to offer only one discounted product each day, a “One Day, One Deal” policy until the stock is sold out, with no announcement of whats the next offering. Innovative events and product specials like Woot-Off, “Bag Of Crap” or “2-for-Tuesday” coupled with bold marketing have built one vibrant community where its members actually have fun shopping.
Woot shows their different business culture, on their Amazons acquisition wicked celebration rap
Recently acquired by Amazon, much of the coverage focused on how Amazon captured the opportunity of real-time shopping, but the real value might be on the social side, venturing into new business models where communities represent a bigger role than the usual 20th century e-commerce.
Recently speaking at TEDx Sydney, Rachel explains that “collaborative brands make it easy for communities to act on behalf of their brands”, where we are no longer defined as consumers by our personal possessions, but also by what we are part of, what we share and the groups we belong to.
New trends like swaptrading (such as Swaptree.com, sort of online dating service for all of your unwanted media), reveals new models of commerce, where trust mechanics and collaborative behaviors are principal. This groundswell of collaborative consumption is further accelerated by the rise of mobile communication.
Rachel Botsman defines 4 big drivers of the shift to collaborative consumption:
A renewed belief in the importance of community
A torrent of peer-to-peer social networks and real time technologies
Pressing unresolved environmental concerns
A global recession that has fundamentally shocked consumer behaviors
People are starting to share resources without sacrificing their lifestyles or personal freedom, supported by 3 clear systems:
Redistribution markets (stretch the lifecycle of a a product, reducing waist)
Collaborative lifestyles (sharing of resources like money, skills and time) – coworking, couchsurfing or even landshare (http://www.landshare.net/) will become mainstream
Product Service Systems, where one pays for the benefit of a product without needing to own the product outright. Examples include rental services like Netflix or Zipcar .
After the financial crisis, consumers are adopting these new behaviors that will impact e-commerce for the years to come. Group buying and collaborative consumption are the latest of these trends that brands will need to pay attention to and embrace the value of social capital and not only the monetary side of commerce.
If you know of more examples or want to discuss how communities are impacting e-commerce, please drop a note in the comments.
Last week Steve Jobs put one more nail in Adobe’s Flash coffin, further confirmed with Microsoft’s support to H.264 codec for HTML video on Internet Explorer 9. What i find amusing was the fact i left serious Flash development almost 3 years ago, becoming increasingly interested in open standarts, not only XHTML or HTML5, but also on the interoperability between systems, almost as important as openess.
Trying to figure out trends is on of the key assets for a creative technologist like me. Dealing with social media before it became popular, playing with Flash when it was still version 3, getting curious about OAuth in 2007, or betting that Facebook would become huge in Portugal, i wonder if this isn’t only a confirmation bias.
So, what are the tea leaves that i’ve been reading lately?
DIY@home The main theme at Shift10, this trend has been building up since the maker manifesto. What will happen when movements like Fabrication become accessible to the regular Joe?
Portable profiles Taking our digital identity TVs or cars, plugging our Facebook profile to our train seat, downloading a ticket using RFID authentication, adjusting enviromental data through sensors, it all feels to much like science fiction. Or maybe not.
Democratized video publishing What happened with blogging will happen again with video. We just need cheaper cameras and easier video linear editors.
Ad people be afraid. We’re seeing it already with the like button on Facebook, and it’s not far fetched to expand the notion to all online advertising. Because clicks don’t matter neither your Cannes Award. It’s the consumer, stupid.
Maybe i’m dead wrong in a few years, but prescience delivers great new challenges.
Not Fab from fabulous, but rather Fab from making and using fabbers, machines that can make almost anything, by printing three dimensional objects.
From commercial to the more open-source hardware and software solutions at Fab@home, these machines will enable people to download and print objects, experimenting with shared projects and try out new materials. Fabber owners improve these models and share physical objects with other fabbers, with the same enthusiasm as the pioneers of open source movement.
The wave of innovation brought by Web 2.0 technologies, with a sustainable co-creation by thousands of users, is now expanding to the physical world. The signs are there: from hacker (in the creative sense) communities like Make, Instructables or the more neo-Craftsy website Etsy.com, people are getting more comfortable with the idea of building something with their own hands. It’s about feeling empowered, the hands-on experience of building something, appealing not only to our darwinian survival skills but also have a bit of science fiction premonition (remember Luke Skywalker building C3PO as a young kid?). Yes, because even young kids are starting to love the tinkering, as shown on the TED Talk below, by Gever Tulley:
If all this seems futuristic to you, just try to imagine how IKEA will look in a decade: instead of boxed items, dozens of 3d printers are available at the cashier. You just take the blueprints and super fast hardware will print that out. Or even better: for smaller items, you just download the schematic at IKEA Fab Store and print them at home.
Yes, it seems far fetched. But so did Augmented Reality a decade ago. I just hope the media won’t hype Fab as much as they did with AR. Universal manufacturing is something that could change society in unexpected ways, the same way Internet did, by redefining industries and democratizing innovation. It comes nonetheless with a new set of dilemmas, such as the degree of experimentation or control of outputs.
As for companies, they’d better start thinking how their old models of patents stand up to this new paradigm, with a product’s life cycle being dramatically redefined. And, who knows, maybe even involve the consumers in true User Generated Products.