E-commerce has become such a ubiquitous part of our lives that many of us don’t even think any more about what it means. Our minds simply think of platforms like Amazon and Ebay, and of the convenience it brings to be able to purchase whatever we can dream of, often delivered right to our very doorsteps. Of course, e-commerce is a lot more than just Amazon – now it’s everywhere, from the custom wedding rings you bought on Etsy to the stationary supplies you ordered for your office online.
E-commerce, put simply, refers to any commercial transaction you conduct electronically over the internet. That means every time you order something on Amazon on your computer or phone, but also every time you deposited some cash or paid for something through a website. That includes buying video games digitally, or even paying for a Facebook ad.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, we live in a world where literally anything you can ever need can be purchased online. You can get everything from toys to electronics to even groceries on Amazon. In most parts of the world, you can call a taxi from your phone. In some places, you can even order food and have it delivered to you from an app! And let’s not forget the hundreds of digital content creators who you can support online, and who sell merchandise through their websites. Even social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are letting people buy and sell using their platforms.
All of this has changed people’s expectations of what they can get and how they can get it. For most of us, all we need is a credit card and a home address and the world’s our oyster. Of course, people in the Caribbean have a slightly harder time getting things on international websites, because of credit card issues, the unpredictable length of shipping, and exorbitant customs fees.
There have been a couple attempts within the Caribbean to make more accessible competitors to Amazon, like Digicel’s Redbarrel, but a lot of them haven’t lasted the test of time. There’s more than one way to participate in the e-commerce market, though. Since buying and selling online has become big business, many companies have sprung up to help consumers receive international products faster and easier. Now’s the perfect time for more variety stores and boutiques to invest in e-commerce technology to move their catalogues of items faster and more conveniently for customers, and for individual craftspeople to create their own digital stories for their products.
But there are a couple downsides to this, if you’re only now entering the e-commerce market. For one, people expect everything fast. This is especially difficult for content creators, or people who are using their own websites, or services like Patreon, Indiegogo or Etsy to create for customers. When you can get six or seven packages sent right to your door in less than three days, it’s hard to wait more than a week for one item. It’s a little different for each kind of product and service, but for the most part e-commerce has developed a culture of immediate gratification.
But that can be something that works to your advantage, or at least something that you cater for in your business model. Many craftspeople that work off Etsy, for instance, make multiple products at a time and list their availability in their store. From the perspective of the seller, the focus is to work less like an individual creator and more like a business, with a dedicated inventory and time to turn over new products and services. That builds up brand trust over time, because people know that what they order from you is sure to be on its way from the moment they click ‘buy’.
Or you can be creative and use the time between the order being made and delivered to get to know your customer and develop a rapport. For some businesses, the time before orders are fulfilled is the time to reach out and thank customers for their purchase, and let them know more about other products and services. Other companies use this time to let their new customers know about promotions and freebies that they can take advantage of while they wait for their order. Either way, figuring out how to build trust and fight off impatience may be key.
It also means that consumers expect more value for less. That doesn’t necessarily mean that most people aren’t prepared to pay what a thing is worth, but it does mean that most folks know where they need to search to get a good deal. Sites like Amazon are always having sales on common items, and other sites like Wish and Ali Express make a name for themselves by having popular items like electronics for unbelievably low prices.
That means that, if you’re selling or creating items that most folks know how to find elsewhere, you have to give them value they can’t get in those other places. Usually, that means cheaper prices, but it could just as easily mean giving additional freebies or selling products with more features than their competitors. For a great many people in the Caribbean, it might just mean being able to get what they want delivered straight to them, instead of having to go to the office of a shipping company to get it.
It’s hard to imagine a future where e-commerce becomes even more ingrained into everyday life, but it continues to do just that. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth and success with e-commerce for small and medium-sized enterprises, and even sole traders depending on how niche they are and the value proposition they bring to their customers. All this being said, has your business done any recent e-commerce research? There’s no better time to discover how it can be integrated into your business than now.