It may seem like the world of retail has been reduced to eCommerce overachievement and brick-and-mortar underachievement. But even as pandemic-fueled dynamics rage on, new trends and catchphrases to describe them continue to emerge.
Let’s start at 30,000 feet – because that’s where today’s most substantial change in retailing could be. That change is captured in a term that shows itself every time the global promise of the internet and eCommerce is threatened. The term – deglobalization – has been around as long as its more positive cousin, globalization.
A quick Google search will produce any number of scholarly articles espousing the internet as a global equalizer. For retailers, the idea was to have a truly global marketplace where a New Yorker could buy Ferragamo shoes from a Milanese boutique and a Parisian could buy a pair of Carhartt work boots from Amazon. Some part of the global marketplace was on its way to reality – but in the middle of the race, COVID and other forces have pulled deglobalization ahead of globalization.
COVID’s effect has been through the sheer force of fear and suspicion. Consumers in the U.S. have been clear about their “safety-first” mindset – and that’s arguably a reason why that pair of Ferragamos might be seen as an alien product touched by unknown hands. The walls between countries in the global marketplace are more impenetrable now than they’ve ever been.
As an example, look at the current TikTok controversy. Just as the video-sharing app is poised to produce its own generation of influencers and international sharing, it appears that ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, might have to spin off its U.S. operations.
In this climate, it’s hard to think that commerce will become as global as it was once intended. It will be interesting to see how Alibaba and Tencent continue to make inroads into the U.S. as nationalism takes hold. In fact, one Chinese eCommerce observer sees a day in the not-too-distant future where companies will add their country to their URL tag.
“Internet advancement is arguably one of the key forces behind globalization, but deglobalization could have a huge impact on the internet, because it is transnational by nature,” said Alban Kwan, CSC East Asia regional director and Lan Huang, CSC domain and brand abuse enforcement expert. “Deglobalization may eventually lead to a more local supply chain and localized brand infringements (fraud or counterfeit goods). Localized infringements may take many forms. To capitalize on national sentiment, we could see more frequent use of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) or even internationalized domain names (IDNs) to signify local content, rather than consolidation of sites under a global, generic .com.”
Now let’s drop down to 15,000 feet, where another trend is producing another new term. Pervasive eCommerce is the practice of making every touchpoint a commerce point. Again, it’s not a brand-new concept, but one that has been accelerated by the pandemic. It has also been known by its acronym ATAWAD (anytime, anywhere, any device).
In the attempt to catch up with the digital shift, ATAWAD is a necessary strategy as retailers move past merely showing up in eCommerce to taking it as seriously as the pandemic has dictated. But even “pervasive commerce” has taken on a new meaning, which has taken hold in China.
The new meaning is to be pervasive (or ubiquitous) in a smaller universe or community.
For example, according to TechNode, there are more than four million WeChat mini-communities in China, which can be accessed through 60 various touchpoints within owner Tencent’s ecosystem. If a retailer can access one of these communities, its products can be shared in chats and articles, and can be integrated with features like coupons, receipts and membership cards. Per Tencent, these communities are used by 450 million active users every day, and 95 percent of Chinese eCommerce brands have already started to tap into them.
Pervasive eCommerce is quite possibly something that can be executed via social media groups (think Facebook with more integration) – but in terms of messaging, China and the Tencent group are far beyond what current U.S. chat platforms can handle.
On the ground in eCommerce, expect to hear a lot about progressive web apps (PWAs) and accelerated mobile pages (AMP). As is the case with pervasive commerce, these two applications mark the difference between superficial and advanced eCommerce execution.
Here’s how to think of PWAs and AMPs: Suppose a luxury retailer is late to the game with eCommerce, and their sales (which depended on physical retail) have floundered. The company builds out a more improved eCommerce experience just in time to find out that the pages won’t look good on mobile without some serious, expensive and time-consuming work.
Enter PWA, a website page-building program with stripped-down code that makes eCommerce pages look like mobile web pages, which can be loaded much faster than the current code can enable. It also allows these online pages to be easily configured for mobile display. The bottom line: PWA can deliver a better shopping experience while giving designers more options than simple HTML.
AMP serves as the connector between PWA and mobile screens. For stripped-down HTML web pages, it allows instant loading and enhanced mobile performance.
All three of these new catchphrases are already in motion, and will be necessary for employees in companies of all sizes aiming to catch the digital shift – from the C-level to the engineering team.