My goal was to solve a problem no one had fixed yet and remove the friction from creating great content for online stores. I knew that ecommerce stores would need images not just for immediate use, but for sales and promotions for a long time to come. And that fact still holds strong today.
Even with the rise of video and augmented reality, I am certain that 10 years from now, online retailers will still need high-quality images and content to be successful. And that knowledge and certainty are the basis of my business.
Whatever your motivation, you need a reliable foundation to start a business. The main thing that motivates you and drives you to invest time and energy in building something is knowing there is a market for it. So what should you base that foundation on?
Build on certainty, not on trends.
Trends are like waves. They come over quickly and crash on the beach or rocks, but you don’t know when one will fall away, leaving the moat for your sandcastle to dry up in the sun. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, trends are enhancers, not fundamentals that you can build on.
To build a solid ecommerce business, you need to focus on the constants.
Consumers will always want a wide selection, low prices, quick delivery, and impeccable service
Amazon is capitalizing on the fact that we want good service at affordable prices. Their model is based on low prices, fast delivery, and impeccable customer service. And, as Jeff Bezos says, none of his customers will ever say: “I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher,” or “I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.” So you may not build a global retail empire like Amazon has, but there is plenty of opportunity in the eCommerce industry for everyone.
Matternet, a drone delivery outfit, is another example, capitalizing on the fact that quick deliveries matter. The company is targeting B2B deliveries on regular routes, at least for the near future, currently focusing on transporting blood samples to labs. Matternet is becoming ever more efficient with its new stations where drones can swap batteries and payloads autonomously.
Things that you can’t build a sustainable online store around are trends, like wooden sunglasses or wooden watches. They can enhance your store’s selection and boost your conversion while they last, but they may not be popular in 10 years.
We will still need to move products across the globe
Even with Elon Musk on our planet, teleportation of goods from China to the US is still a long way off. So the need for a solid logistics and fulfillment network will certainly be here a lot longer than 10 years from now.
On a macro level, that need includes mastering global freight. Startups like Flexport are using technology to optimize the moving of goods, providing more control and transparency over the process using a unique software platform. Flexport moves thousands of containers a month and is competing against giants like Maersk that moves 70 million containers per year.
Flexport’s main advantage is in its centralized tracking system and streamlined client-facing interface. Although they are the new kid on the block, they’re building a business around an aspect of ecommerce that will still be here in 10 years. They are optimizing and making it easier for retailers to track their goods so they can plan and forecast better.
You will still need to hire and manage employees
Even though automation is gaining traction and is certainly going to simplify operations by freeing up our time from some routine tasks, it will take longer than 10 years to see the age of an AI-ruled world. So, you will still need to hire and manage a team of highly skilled humans.
That is why platforms like Upwork will flourish in the next decade, aided by the steady growth of the freelance economy. That is also why platforms that enable time tracking (like Harvest) and streamline payroll (like Gusto) are solid businesses.
As long as the relationship between employer and employee, or client and contractor, is around, it will need managing and optimization. So anyone working on ideas on how to minimize employee tardiness, build a remote culture, or make interactions with HR a breeze is onto something.
You will still need to make and collect payments
Making and receiving payments is also not going away. Technology and devices may evolve, but the exchange of value is deeply rooted in every transaction on the planet, be it on- or offline, as it has been for the past thousands of years.
The payments game has been steadily evolving with the rise of platforms like Paypal, AfterPay, and Stripe. And some entrepreneurs are trying to capitalize on that fixed note in the ecommerce world by employing blockchain technology, which promises secure financial transactions at a fraction of the cost of traditional services.
The fact is that online payments are an integral part of ecommerce and can serve as a solid foundation for starting a business.
Klarna, for example, is a payments platform that allows customers to pay later or in installments when shopping online.
Veem is using cryptocurrencies to allow small businesses to send and receive international payments in local currency. Pretty cool, and yet, it is just payments.
You will need traffic to your store so digital marketing will be around
Only a few key components comprise the core of your marketing strategy: most often paid ads, social media posts, blog posts, and email. New channels may arise and become mainstream — like augmented reality and virtual reality worlds, where you will be able to place ads and post content — but I don’t think social media, blogs, and email will go away entirely.
My reasoning? The marketing landscape is prone to evolutions rather than revolutions. So, while we may experiment with new channels, our current digital channels will be around at least ten years from now, and likely many more. They might integrate more video or even augmented reality, but I really don’t see Facebook going anywhere.
Consumers are still going to search for information online before they make a purchase — probably even more than now! So if you are thinking of starting an ecommerce-focused digital content agency, now is the time.
How to use these insights
These are just some of the major ecommerce intersections that have fostered and will continue to foster the ecosystems of companies that serve online retail. There is a world of sub-touchpoints in ecommerce that will also be around in 10 years. Think label printing, accounting (you still have to pay taxes), inventory management, and data visualization. I don’t see any of those going away either.
Christmas will be around and, I bet, Black Friday too.
I think these fixed points in ecommerce are the ones that are worth your attention and energy.
Do not look for unicorns and hope for miracle trends that will propel your brand into success. Build around the things that are not going to change, ones that can sustain long-term profits. Think of how to make things better by solving existing issues with them or simply by removing friction.
That is not to say to avoid trends entirely; they can give your business a healthy boost, but only if you ride them well.
Take your cue from some of the most prominent startups who are solving problems with existing systems that will be around in ten years and beyond. Flexport tackles global freight conundrums, and Slack simplifies communication. And both have a valuation of over a billion.
Trends and change are fun and exciting, but the fixed aspects of ecommerce are steadier, more predictable, and, ultimately, more profitable.