Considered e-commerce

E-commerce came of age by selling easily understood, easy-to-ship goods like books and CDs. However, today’s online shoppers have grown more comfortable buying — or at least shopping for — big-ticket items like furniture and large appliances through the Web. This takes e-commerce into the realm of “considered commerce,” and getting it right means playing by a different set of rules.

The products that fueled first-generation e-commerce — books, software and music, to name a few — are all simple to understand items that can be easily shipped to consumers.

Today, we are at the outset of a second wave of online growth, as consumers push beyond these simple transactions to research and purchase more complex products online. This second wave of growth — considered commerce — represents a seismic opportunity for retailers who are prepared to catch it.

What Is Considered Commerce?

The term “considered commerce” may not sound familiar, but it will soon enough.

In categories like furniture, appliances, flooring, big-screen TVs and building supplies, consumers are researching and purchasing online, having gained confidence in the online channel through years of buying more commoditized items.

In the last 18 months, retailers have mobilized to meet this demand, for the first time effectively offering these goods online through sophisticated multi-channel efforts, embracing the unique requirements of these complex transactions.

This convergence represents a new wave of e-commerce: considered commerce.

Despite the bleak retail outlook, considered commerce experienced robust 52 percent growth in the latter part of 2008. It is projected to be the largest, fastest-growing segment of e-commerce in the next five years, according to Forrester Research.

Considered Commerce Challenges

Profiting from considered commerce growth presents new set of challenges for retailers. That these categories are some of the last to move online is not coincidental — considered products like home furnishings and appliances are inherently challenging to sell online.

These products are often “big-ticket” items, considered purchases that consumers must be made comfortable transacting. Shoppers may not know brand or model numbers for these items (do you know the manufacturer brand of the last sofa you bought?), making it imperative that product information presented online be compelling in its own right. Shoppers are likely to want to see products in person or consult with a sales representative, meaning online, store, phone, chat and email experiences must be seamless. If all this is done perfectly and a consumer makes a purchase, these products often have complex shipping or installation requirements that can quickly become a nightmare for any retailer.

Nonetheless, retail chains, with their local presence, trusted brands and quick delivery, have significant advantages pursuing this new e-commerce opportunity. Customers are waiting for them online — certainly to research products and, increasingly, to buy them. Retailers can profit by meeting them there, if they follow a new set of rules.

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