What’s Next For Online Commerce: Sales Guided By Human Accommodation

There has been a lot of talk about what’s next for online commerce. Rightly so, many people speak of the power of social selling as we live in an era where friends’ recommendations are paramount. However, I think this is only part of the story.

Industry giants like Apple have shown us that the key to success in online commerce comes down to human involvement. Let me explain. Apple runs two of the world’s great e-commerce sites: iTunes and apple.com. However, Apple also invests heavily in its brick-and-mortar retail stores as a way to educate, engage and service customer needs post sale. I would wager that Apple retail store sales pale in comparison to what they sell online. Yet, like the iPod and iTunes, Apple’s retail and online stores are tied at the hip.

This was beautifully illustrated in a recent New York Times article about Google’s purchase of Motorola. The article talks about the need for Google to figure out how to put a human face to its digital strategy now that it has entered the world of atoms (ie. physical phones and mobile operating systems). Apple’s ability to fix computers in store--thus delighting its customers--is legendary. As the article states, Apple’s online strategy is defined as "commerce guided by human accommodation." Conversely, Google’s customer service is defined by filling out a web form and letting the community weigh in. This may work in the world of bits, but typically fails in the world of product.

Our online strategy at RIGHTSLEEVE has shifted over the years. When we first launched our e-commerce site in 2006, we expected that more than 50% of our sales would be pure e-commerce enabled. This never happened. Instead, our site became a valuable lead generator for us and sales were closed after the customer interacted with our account team, all of whom have been trained to act more like “geniuses” than pushy salespeople. The site remains the cornerstone of our sales strategy, but it would be nothing without the team that puts a human face on our brand.

How about you? Have you seen your e-commerce strategies evolve over the last five years from a digital-only strategy to one where the digital and physical worlds intersect more than ever before?