Snapchat’s announcement it plans to launch an e-commerce platform is indicative of two facts about the industry. The first is that the e-commerce industry, in the context of retail, is still very young and therefore ripe for innovations like Snapchat’s proposal; the second is that it has yet to achieve the kind of conversational, human interactions social media is grounded in.
While we are ever more connected through our mobiles, we miss immediacy and the human touch in many of the most functional online platforms, which social networks are able to provide at scale. But retailers are also in pole position to optimise the e-commerce experience for customers. As well as having the infrastructure and expertise to make e-commerce efficient, retailers with physical stores can benefit from greater familiarity among certain demographics.
This isn’t only a marketing challenge, it’s a question of whether e-commerce can be something users enjoy participating in. The key is to never accept that a particular platform is sufficient just as it is. But a common pitfall is trying to adopt every new innovation going - the acid test should be whether a piece of new tech will add real value for users.
Partnerships with suppliers and third party specialists will be crucial in striking this balance as they create a flow of fresh thinking while providing in-depth knowledge of how technology can help solve new or age-old problems.
For many big retailers, this may require a shift in thinking. At Unilever, for instance, we set up the Unilever Foundry as a separate arm of the business to connect with and nurture start-up talent. It now hosts ReHack annually, an event that brings together tech enthusiasts with Unilever and major retailers to collaborate and develop solutions in e-commerce.
Social platforms will no doubt continue to develop eyecatching e-commerce offerings but retailers are also in a strong position to bolster their online services through strategic investment in tech and exciting new collaborations, while also capitalising on strong brand partnerships.
Joe Comiskey is lead e-commerce innovation and strategy manager at Unilever