The Changing e-Commerce Landscape

by Greg Fink and Gregg Corella

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

The stage was set in the early e-commerce days with eBay and Amazon paving the way in the digital shopping experience. More recently, we were introduced to flash sales and daily deals from companies like Living Social, Gilt Groupe, Woot and of course Groupon. Electronic commerce has now come of age. Nothing has surpassed the power of eBay or Amazon and few innovative e-commerce startups have proved to be as successful.

What we are witnessing today is a metamorphosis of e-commerce into a variation of online commerce that requires adaptability and flexibility.

What is driving the evolution of e-commerce today is how people are accessing the Internet. While the PC was wildly successful and reached hundreds of millions of people over several decades, the smartphone has developed an enormous following in only a few years. The Apple iPhone was introduced in mid-2007 and in less than five years there are more than a billion smartphone users around the globe, with projections to double by 2015. Smartphone users are inseparable from their devices, and even during the Great Recession users refused to cut back on smartphone costs. But it didn’t stop there—the tablet has since been introduced and users are spending more time online than ever before. Users browse, compare and research before they buy, and boy do they buy.

What we are witnessing today is a metamorphosis of e-commerce into a variation of online commerce that requires adaptability and flexibility.

Marc Andreessen, Founder of Netscape and a brilliant Internet entrepreneur, made a bold prediction in January: “Retail guys are going to go out of business and e-commerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice,” he said. “Retail chains are a fundamentally implausible economic structure. There is fundamentally a better model.”

Not everyone will agree with Andreessen’s prediction as to the absolute death of retail, but it should be obvious that software has made online commerce a reality and has disrupted traditional retail models. E-commerce is competing with brick-and-mortar retail, and in many cases, winning. In the last few years we’ve seen Netflix triumph over Blockbuster and Amazon trump Borders.

But it’s not just retail. LinkedIn is now the fastest-growing recruiting company, and Craigslist has all but killed classified ads. The changeover continues across all segments of the market, including finance, automobile sales, telecommunications and television, not to mention that manufacturing too has been given a glimpse of a changing future since the introduction of 3D printing. The common denominator to all this disruption is software. So the question should be asked: What is your company doing about this changing landscape?

Direct selling has a leg up on traditional retailing in that it has, by its nature, capitalized on the one-to-one relationship, something that has remained elusive to traditional retail. But some ground has been gained by retailers in recent years with one-to-one interaction using social tools like Twitter and Facebook.

Our industry, as a whole, is being impacted by new behaviors. While direct selling may have the advantage of one-to-one relationship selling while not being shackled like brick-and-mortar businesses, our industry is being challenged by these newly developing shopping habits. Who can refute referral and affiliate marketing? What about the impact of preferred customers and the occasional buyer who wants a great product but appreciates a little incentive for referring others?

Here are some things to look for in a well-designed e-commerce platform:

Personalization and the User Experience

Today, a user’s online experience is dramatically different than even just a couple of years ago. Social and sharing sites are compiling “big data” that captures information oftentimes hidden from the consumer. This data is beginning to offer personalization like never before, and everything from age, purchasing and browsing habits to geography and social profiles will play a part in offering a more relevant, more pleasing and beneficial shopping experience.

It’s no longer about just completing an order; savvy shoppers want self-service options that offer immediate product information and results.

It’s no longer about just completing an order; savvy shoppers want self-service options that offer immediate product information and results. Can a shopper view a short product video? Can all the ingredients and formulations be viewed online? Does it offer a user review and a rating system? These are core e-commerce features today and they appeal to consumers, offering a better online experience.

Connected Devices

PCs rule the workday. Tablets are used in the evening and smartphones are constant companions. How people visit your site is beyond your control, which means your e-commerce software needs to work on multiple connected devices. Consumers are adapting their lives to tablets, smartphones and PCs, and they are expecting that the various devices used will offer experiences, personalization, geo-specific content and relevant offers. Responsive design is critical going forward for optimizing the online experience regardless of the device.

Affiliate and Referral Marketing

Affiliate marketing relies purely on financial motivations to drive sales, while referral marketing relies on trust and personal relationships to drive sales. In direct selling we are proud of our one-to-one marketing method but affiliate marketing is a powerful channel. An e-commerce platform ought to be able to manage affiliates and referrals. Would your company’s sales culture benefit from casual buyers who get rewarded for referrals? Imagine your preferred or retail customers referring a friend and receiving an incentive that encourages future purchases. Look for a platform that builds bridges, not barriers.

Loyalty, Promotions and Incentives

Loyalty programs are not just for frequent travelers anymore. They have been wildly successful because they work. Also look for promotion and incentive capabilities. As you know, compensation plans reward behaviors but sometimes you need quick or specifically targeted results. Maybe you want to launch a new product or stimulate sales on products that are slow movers, or perhaps you have short-term objectives such as an upcoming national conference or you want to increase your Preferred Customer base. The possibilities are endless. You’ll want an e-commerce platform that is agile and allows you to easily create your own promotions and incentives without making a project out of it. You’ll get the near-term results you’re looking for without added costs, and you won’t have to modify your company’s compensation plan.

Virtual (or Alternate) Currency

Has your company considered the many possibilities of using virtual currencies? Maybe a representative recruits a new customer and maybe a customer refers a friend—should they both receive the same reward? Or what about a virtual currency that can be used for future purchases or may accrue toward marketing materials or national conference registration fees? Virtual currency can be a point-based system (e.g., airline mile programs) or cash-on-account or credit-on-account. The bottom line is that sometimes money is not the only motivator for the behaviors you seek.


In a digital world the ink is never dry. Content should be dynamic, fresh and informative for the viewer and frequently updated so that it is relevant. A content management system allows the creation, management and publishing of content that is relevant to the audience, presenting specials, incentives and promotions that are time sensitive. Whether offering simple promotional messages or uploading a video announcing a new loyalty program, content management systems offer robust capabilities that facilitate complete management of digital assets.

Enrollment and Membership

Working Smart

Enrollment should be more than just collecting information—it is the first impression moment.

Just as critical to the e-commerce shopping, browsing and buying experiences is the process supporting new customer or sales representative enrollment. Enrollment should be more than just collecting information—it is the first impression moment. It should be simple and easy, guiding the user through each step, such as launching a personal marketing website, uploading contacts and initiating an online branded marketing campaign within minutes. Results have shown that by accelerating this user experience chances of retention will significantly increase for both customers and sales representatives.

In Summary

Direct sellers are well-positioned to start profiting from the latest in innovations that are transforming e-commerce and ultimately the way consumers and sales representatives behave both off and online. Direct sellers are in a unique place, offering “white glove service” and hands-on support to consumers and sales representatives, and when combined with the latest in e-commerce innovations the “user experience” becomes the best it can be. Direct sellers and their customers expect more, and the new era of e-commerce is upon us with technologies that can support the traditional direct sales business model while embracing the future.

Greg FinkGreg Fink Gregg CorellaGregg Corella Greg Fink is Vice President of Sales and Gregg Corella is Senior Sales Executive, both at Next Wave Logistics.

About Direct Selling News
Direct Selling News Magazine has been serving direct selling and network marketing executives since 2004. Each issue of Direct Selling News offers content on topics that shape the dynamics of our industry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: