About 4,000 years ago, give or take a few decades, we developed the notion of currency to act as a valuable receipt for goods received. If you were hanging out in Mesopotamia 2000 B.C., you might have trusted your buddy delivering the grain, but your boss still wanted to get a form of receipt to match the grain you would put in the temple storehouse. Nothing personal, just business.
About 30 years ago, we started figuring out how to order online. In 1982, Minitel was introduced in France by France Telecom. I remember it when working for Rhone-Poulenc Rorer in Paris. It was revolutionary at the time. You could book travel online via this little electronic box with green writing on the screen. In the 90’s, we started introducing security protocols and improved our bandwidth dramatically. In 1994, it became possible to buy pizza from Pizza Hut right from their site. Not a revolution, but cool. 1995 then proved to be the breakout year. Dell.com started with an initial goal of hoping to make $1MM per month, which was very bold at that time. Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com. Cisco started selling online and eBay was founded, all in the same year.
15 years later, it’s safe to say that companies have focused on e-commerce as a way to purchase goods directly through the Internet. And, quite predictably, the majority of promotional spend goes against this transaction. We are good at the transaction.
We are bad on reaching customers before the transaction. And this is giving rise to the next wave of e-commerce, which I refer to as “pre-commerce”.
Pre-Commerce is a reality due to how the web is being transformed by technology and the customer together. And it is a major opportunity.
There is a reason why we ask our peers for advice before we purchase online or why we look for weeks/months before making a decision. In the offline experience, we can see, touch and hear direct. Online, we are often missing that experience of interacting with products, asking questions and putting our five senses to work. So, we do the next best thing. We explore by ourselves. We often start with search. 15.2 billion searches were conducted by all of us in the U.S. only in January, 2010. We ask our peers for direct advice often after sending them content to look at. We visit the communities we trust to learn more and ask questions. We go to Yahoo! Answers or Mahalo and see what others have said. We look at Craigslist now and then. We explore until we are satisfied…..then we visit to buy online.
Basically, we substitute the offline experience we know with a rich, deep exploration online.
It’s the world of pre-commerce. It’s a world most marketers think they know, but actually have no idea where or how decisions are made before a customer ever visits your transaction-focused site. Most companies are analogous to the retailer waiting patiently in their store for you to arrive. It’s an old model.
In the future, leaders will be experts at interacting with you appropriately before you make a decision and they will integrate community into their e-commerce site, so your experience continues when you visit. Those companies will become a valid and trusted partner in the pre-commerce journey.
This is what I love about the evolution of the web. We think we have solved how do to something and we realize we’re just getting started. We’ve come a long way from taking receipts for grain, but just imagine where we can go from here….
All the best, Bob