“The cloud has revolutionised the way we actually build companies. It says: ‘I’ll take care of everything for you so you no longer have to worry about infrastructure and you can scale as fast as you can dream,” says Jon Sugihara, kicking off his keynote at Echelon Thailand 2015 on the evolution of e-commerce.
The Chief Product Officer of the Singapore-based online grocer RedMart says that since the advent of Big Data, e-commerce site owners are now privy to detailed insights about customer behaviour.
“With e-commerce, I can see everything you’re doing on my website, so I know everything about you. With brick-and-mortar, I might recognise you if you come into my store multiple times — that’s their insight,” he says.
Sugihara notes quite comically that ‘groceries’ as a space may offer up the deepest (and creepiest) of insights as it’s the most personal set of items you can buy.
“I know when you’re shopping for one [person] and all of a sudden you’re shopping for two. I know when your baby has moved from phase one to phase two, and I know when you’ve broken up with your boyfriend because Ben and Jerry’s ice cream has started showing up on your shopping cart,” he says, to possibly uneasy laughter.
Navigating mobile-first Southeast Asian markets
Zeroing specifically on Asia, Sugihara makes the pertinent point that these mobile-first markets present a massive opportunity for e-commerce because it is the perfect conversion channel. Why? Because it’s a personal device/marketing channel hybrid that is attached to people 24/7.
“Mobile is definitely everywhere in Asia. People can’t afford computers so the masses have jumped to the mobile phone instead, so your primary interface is mobile. In this region, you’re looking at a billion or more interfaces that are purely on mobile where they don’t have any alternative interfaces — so you need to think about what mobile means to you and your business.”
His prediction for the future of e-commerce is that the ‘e’ in e-commerce will disappear, as will the concept of online and offline.
According to Sugihara, RedMart is actively challenging two dinosaur-like concepts: Search and Browse. Unlike the brick-and-mortar shopping user experience (UX), he says that discovery as a concept is difficult to incorporate into an e-commerce app. To address this, RedMart will be adding an ‘Explore’ feature in the app.
Brick-and-mortar still wins in some ways
Although a physical store can’t hold a candle to the convenience of e-commerce, there are still a number of advantages to a brick-and-mortar store — mainly the inefficient UX (especially in supermarkets) where shop owners can take full advantage of the inconvenience of locating hard-to-find items.
Sugihara calls it both “a serendipitous discovery” or “wandering through a discovery minefield,” the latter more commonly experienced by men.
His final thoughts in the keynote are ambitious: “I want to kill cash on delivery,” he says, as it increases overhead costs and minimises margins. This may be a long-term challenge as many Southeast Asian markets are still primarily cash-based with payment infrastructure still being laid. Still, Sugihara holds firm on starting this movement:
“I am calling on everyone to abolish cash on delivery, otherwise we’re going to be the slowest growing region in terms of e-commerce.”
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