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The E-commerce Tipping Point

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The business of selling is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

When you think about e-commerce, how does it make you feel? Do you feel that it's still a fairly nascent part of the retail experience or do you think that it has matured to the point where it's not only a proven merchandising channel, but a critical function of how people buy? Recently, a very senior marketing professional who works at one of the world's largest corporations was recounting a story of how they saw a postal truck outside of their corporate head offices in Silicon Valley, and every single parcel that was being offloaded from this truck was from Amazon. He thought to himself: "this is the what retail looks like in 2012."

It's big but it will become a whole lot bigger.

Last week, MediaPost ran a news item titled, PwC: Even With Social, Stores Aren't Keeping Up, in which the company expects to see U.S. e-commerce sales hit the $279 billion mark by 2015. So, we're talking real money and big money.

Like anything else in business, with that steep growth and adoption comes a myriad of challenges, roadblocks, and adoption issues. The biggest challenge? Figuring out how, when, and where consumers want to connect, order, and buy. Retail is, without question, morphing from a physical location (a shopping mall or a busy intersection of a popular city) to a state of digitization. What Amazon started is now being continued by new and fascinating online retailers like Fab.

Driven by analytics, Fab.com is a daily deal site that offers up products with a modern contemporary design flare. From posters and art to furniture and jewelry, its about more than a great price (although sales can be up to 70 per cent off retail) as Fab has managed to create it's own brand, look, and feel that nurtured a passionate community of customers (and fans). Other brands like One Kings Lane (which offers up home decor, gifts, kitchenware, and vintage finds) are also doing brisk and growing business in this ever-evolving segment. These new start-ups are not only churning out millions of dollars in profit, but they're helping to redefine the world of retailing.

A million stores in the palm of your hand.

A testament the challenges that traditional retailers face is the exponential growth of mobile (in that cluster, let's include smartphones and tablets). With this new and hyper-connected customer -- who is also highly untethered -- we're able to get a crystal clear view of where the struggles begin. Choose a favourite retailer of yours. Now, enter their website URL into your smartphone and tell me what you see? Is their experience adaptive? Does it work as elegantly as their website experience? More often than not, it's the exact website and nothing else -- making it a nightmare on a smartphone.

The E-commerce Tipping Point.

It's here and it's now. Retailers are doing themselves a massive disservice by sitting on the sidelines and waiting for consumers to adopt e-commerce. The opportunity is for them to lead. To enable all of their platforms to accept the transactions and help their consumers navigate through the multi-channels. Check out this little nugget of reality from the MediaPost news item mentioned above:

In fact, the PwC survey finds, people aren't waiting for stores, but inventing the multichannel experience for themselves as they go along. Because most retailers haven't yet created efficient multichannel models, consumers are working it out for themselves, using different channels in ways that best suit them.

Just imagine for a second if the retailers took the lead, instead of waiting for consumers to adopt. Without whipping out a crystal ball, here's my prediction: e-commerce conducted by smartphones and tablets is going to be pervasive within the next two years. Once it is as ubiquitous as e-commerce is today, it's going to make our current world of e-commerce, mobile, and social media look like a joke in terms of sales, size and people using it.

The future belongs to selling everywhere, anytime. Why some retailers are sitting back and waiting is beyond me.

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, comes out in Spring 2013.