The future of E-Commerce: staying ahead of the game
Experts discuss the future of E-Commerce at the VII Delphi Dialog 2020
A Delphi Dialog in Berlin brought experts together to talk about the future of E-Commerce, coinciding with the launch of DPDHL's 'Global E-Tailing 2025' study on May 25, 2014. Customers and commentators considered the changing behavior of consumers, how smaller companies respond, and how to innovate.
Prof. Stefan Groß-Selbeck: " In the future, E-Commerce will become more complicated, and more competitive."
Who can predict life in a decade's time? Difficult, when you consider how hard it would have been to predict today's world, back in 2004? "No-one could have foreseen how tablets, smartphones and Facebook have changed our lives. But if we look at how the world is changing, it is clear that E-Commerce is here to stay," Professor Stefan Groß-Selbeck posited, opening the discussion. Some indicators include the continuing dramatic growth of E-Commerce in China, beyond the urbanized coastal cities, as well as the importance of E-Commerce in emerging markets worldwide.
"But in the future, E-Commerce will become more complicated, and more competitive. Companies will have to be more and more innovative in order to succeed." Groß-Selbeck, former CEO of eBay Germany, explored the topic along with a panel of three other E-Commerce experts: Post - eCommerce - Parcel CEO Jürgen Gerdes; Professor Gerrit Heinemann, who leads the eWeb Research Center at Germany's Hochschule Niederrhein; and Claudia Helming, founder and CEO of E-Commerce portal DaWanda.
It's all about the customer
Jürgen Gerdes, CEO PeP: "We are customizing our business for our customers, so they can receive goods, whenever they choose."
"'Customer' is the most important word this evening," stated Heinemann. Later, during discussions after the event, listeners would agree. "It is really about working out what our customers will need next. That's the message we have to take back with us," said one of the 250 attendees who gathered to talk after the Delphi Dialog. There was plenty to discuss following the panel discussion at the launch of the study, which put forward four possible scenarios on the future of E-Commerce.
"In terms of meeting customer needs, the Paketkasten is the best invention since the letter box," Gerdes said. Deutsche Post DHL Group's new product enables its customers to receive parcels even when they are not at home. "We are customizing our business for our customers, so they can receive goods, from books to fresh salad, whenever they choose."
Sound bites from the event in Berlin
The Global E-Tailing 2025 study postulates four scenarios for the future of E-Commerce:
- One shaped by hybrid consumer behavior, with buyers purchasing goods from different channels, and convenience being a critical factor.
- A second scenario suggests individualized consumers served by small, innovative online retailing platforms.
- A third imagines the world of shopping managed by artificial intelligence, with goods automatically purchased, based on previous buying patterns.
- The fourth scenario suggests a sharing economy and regional consumption for greater sustainability.
Working out what customers want is a challenge for E-Tailers, but the answer is not always asking the customer what they want. As Henry Ford is reported to have said, "If I'd asked my customers what they needed, they would have said a faster horse," Groß-Selbeck recounted. The successful E-Tailing companies of the future will be the ones that discover customers' needs even before they have identified them themselves, he noted.
Success in today's retail landscape often requires seeing a chance to grow where no one else does, a point that was brought home by German journalist Stefan Aust, who moderated the event. "Why didn't the large department stores invent Amazon?" he asked, noting the missed opportunity.
Technology plays the key role
Heinemann responded. "They at least invented distance selling as the key basis for online retailing today. They came up with catalogues and sending goods to buyers' homes, but they didn't anticipate how much customers' expectations had changed," he said. What's more, technology plays the key role. "The most successful E-Commerce platforms today see themselves as technology experts more than retailers," said Groß-Selbeck. "Technology is critical for companies to succeed with E-Commerce, along with logistics. And innovation." E-Commerce will remain the playground of creators and innovators, he added.
Discussion turned to fostering the spirit of innovation – and the willingness to disrupt a business model that seems to be working. "Destroy your own business before others do," suggested Heinemann.
Data: friend or enemy?
Claudia Helming: "DaWanda enables users to sell goods they have created, and buyers likewise reward and celebrate their individuality."
The role of data in facilitating E-Commerce was a key Delphi Dialog topic. Attitudes towards the use of personal data vary around the world, differing widely between the US and Germany, for example. Yet consumer behavior remains similar. Panelists agreed that there is a trend towards greater transparency, "but we can see that data protection laws are excessive in some areas, and insufficient in others," said Groß-Selbeck. "More changes to the legal and tax regulations are likely."
Consumers are also looking beyond mass products to more personalized goods. DaWanda has played an important role in facilitating internet entrepreneurship, the panel agreed. "It enables users to sell goods they have created. In the act of purchasing, makers present the goods they have personally created, and buyers likewise reward and celebrate their individuality," Helming noted.
One result of the evening is: Logistics remains crucial to the success of E-Commerce, with developments differing widely worldwide.
In summary, given changing consumer habits, the ongoing data explosion, and fast-developing technologies, the panelists felt dramatic changes are ahead. Logistics remains crucial to the success of E-Commerce, with developments differing widely worldwide. But beyond the four scenarios in the study, it was difficult to predict how the E-Tailing landscape will look in a decade.