The Newspaper eShops – 4 Types of Online Stores for Online Publishers

For a very long time publishers have been struggling to face a new, harsh reality: their business models becoming obsolete. As traditional customers were switching to the internet, publishers found themselves in a very tough spot. Their product, the information – became a commodity. Anyone with an internet connection and a blog became a potential competitor. News and content became freeware. It wasn’t quality content but people were reading it. For free.

Publishers lost ad and subscription revenue

Soon advertising money started to flow another way. More and more ad revenue got directed to internet companies by media buyers and marketing VP’s. Subscriptions kept dropping. People were now subscribing to these new thingies – RSS feeds and email newsletters and a bunch of other stuff. But they were all free.

Some publishers moved with the trend. Although a little late to the party, they moved online. They’ve opened web outlets and although it was a harsh decision – most had to give away content. They’ve tried to charge readers for reading the content they would otherwise find free. It was a failure.

Then came the freemium model and some had a bit of success with it. These were mostly financial-related publishers that addressed a information-hungry public ready to pay for quality content. The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg built sustainable not-for-free online business. Others had to find new ways to get paid.

Classifieds and job boards helped online publishers diversify revenue streams

The classified ad model and the job board came first. The solution was right there for anyone willing to see it. The classifieds were a model that worked great online, combining the need for C2C advertising and micro-payments. Jobs – everyone looks for one at some point. So why not charge people to post their openings. And guess who could target those willing to pay for these models. That’s right. The publishers.

Large newspapers and magazines alike were popular. By going online their readership increased. Using classifieds software they used the otherwise unprofitable traffic to increase revenue streams. It worked great. In 2013 UK publishers registered almost 30% increase in revenue with recruitment and classifieds.

A new revenue model for publishers – the online store

But there was still room. The publishing industry noticed that a lot of those ads shown to their readers were ran by online retailers. With online retail you didn’t have to have the whole retail logistics to be able to sell stuff. You needed media and a partner to provide the right services.

As publishers saw their revenue switching hands, they too got ready to switch to new models. Below you’ll find a list of 4 models that now help publishers to sell merchandise to their customers. Some more than others.

1. The brand-endorsed, curated store

atlantic

The Atlantic decided to try selling merchandise online but was unwilling to build a whole logistics chain to handle sales, customer support and fulfillment. They did partner with Zazzle, a platform allowing on demand ecommerce fulfillment. The Atlantic forwards the traffic and endorses the store. Zazzle provides merchandise sourcing and fulfilment.

Among the products available on the store you’ll find clothing items, cards and postage, office products and even electronics.

2. The “Post a Logo on it and Sell it” store

cnn

CNN decided to go “big” with this whole ecommerce thing everyone’s talking about. Although it’s clear they’ve put a lot of effort in manufacturing a lot of stuff with the CNN logo on it – it really doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the 90’s web design or the CNN Store 9 to 6 open hours for the *online* store. These things really don’t cut it.

While it might not seem like a lot right now I bet the store was the bomb when people used to access it via dial-up.

new-york-post

While the New York Post seems to try harder than CNN, it’s still not proper. Although I am sure people just love to walk around in a $24 “New York Post” T-shirt , I doubt this is the right formula.

The merchandise listing is targeted at really die-hard fans of the New York Post… which I figure is not much of a market.

3. The Online Store Built for the Audience

cracked

Cracked.com is one of the most popular humor websites in the world and provider of fun to american readers for over 50 years. Their store is built around the audience. It features witty copy t-shirts that appeal to readers.

The store is clearly a very important revenue driver (at least is expected to become) for cracked.com as the publisher promotes it heavily.

newyorker

The New Yorker knows what readers love about it. It is The New Yorker’s style, elegance and wittiness that make it so successful. The store features products that people would love, just like they love the brand: elegant diaries, printed comics, beautiful covers and … well … umbrellas (?!).

vanity

Just like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair is a part of Conde Nast media holding. Its store is packed with beautiful premium photographic prints, illustrations and covers, items fans would love to own.

4. The Multichannel All – Rounder

national

 

The National Geographic is in a league of its own. Not only has the brand built a strong online store but it also features its own collections, it sells merchandise that appeal to children as well as adults. Its gifts are wonderfully presented and really in tune with the brand identity.

Moreover NG  runs a network of retail brick and mortar stores in the UK and US. As a multichannel retailer The National Geographic shows it can build a great retail experience, as well as provide the world with astonishing information on wildlife.

And that’s not all. Customer purchases enable The National Geographic to walk on a noble path. Its mission – to inspire people to care about our planet. It does that by helping cultural preservation, exploration and research and others you can find out about here.

Talk about a great selling proposition – buy stuff and save the planet. The National Geographic shows you can be a great information outlet AND build a great business model. It also shows the online store is a viable option for publishers trying to improve their revenue streams. If they try a little harder.

 

Equal Opportunities for All. Are Electronic Markets Making the World a Better Place?

hands

In 1932, Ben Graham asked a tough question: “Is American Business Worth More Dead than Alive?”.  At the time US and the World were struggling through the depths of the Great Depression. The 1929 and 1930 stock market crashes left anyone with a sense of reality discouraged with stock exchange.

But Ben Graham, then a small investor with a brilliant mind, noticed something interesting. The stock market crashes left companies deeply undervalued. The companies were worth more taken apart than sold as a whole. They struggled with banks that not loaning them money and investors far too prudent.

30% of all listed companies had a larger value disassembled than sold as a whole. Their net quick assets (cash, marketable securities, and accounts receivable minus current liabilities) were worth more than the value investors were willing to pay for. Mr. Graham basically said: it’s now safe to invest again.

It’s 2014 and now we wonder how technology companies are evaluated. We strive to understand how something so seemingly small and useless as messaging app, a social network and an electronic market can be so highly valued. If Ben Graham would look at Amazon, would he decide to buy? Well I don’t know about the messaging app or the social network but if it were for the electronic markets, I bet mr. Graham would say: it’s now safe to invest again. Below you’ll find out why.

The Prodigal Student

Ben Graham lived until 1976. Although definitely not a poor man, he didn’t die a very wealthy one either. He had no problem ensuring his wealth increased steadily but he was more fond of reading Proust in French and Plato in Latin than gathering fortunes.

It was one of his disciples that reminded the world about Mr. Graham. It was this disciple, the worlds richest man for a very long time, that made Ben Graham famous, repeating his mentor’s name every chance he got.

Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet made his first investment when he was just nine. He ran his own business by the age of 14. He was a millionaire by the age of 32. He tried to get Ben Graham to hire him for years until the mentor finally accepted he was ready to join his company.

He than evolved continuously. Using Graham’s method he increased his fortune by the year. There were of course setbacks but he managed his money and his partners’ like no other.

But there was something Warren was not fond of: technology. He refused to be one of the early investors in Intel because he just didn’t understand technology. He was more focused on long term companies that he understood. Amid the Dot Com Bubble, when everyone was rushing in to buy tech stocks he said:

“Technology is just something we don’t understand, so we don’t invest in it.”

They laughed and they lost. The Oracle of Omaha, as mr. Buffet is often called in media, was right again. He left the bubble unwounded. An than he bought tech stocks.

Warren Buffet invested in IBM and Intel. These companies fit his principles. They were strong companies, that he could expect to own indefinitely. They survived the hype and escaped stronger.

Fairness and the money

Fairness is a concept that sometimes eludes our understanding. At least most of us. Warren Buffet is not like most of us. He was able to see beyond the hype when tech stocks were overvalued and he was able to see beyond the public opinion when important matters were disputed.

He and his wife were one of the few anti – segregation militants in Omaha, back when rasial differences were the norm. He fought strongly anti – semitism in his hometown. He pledged $31 billion to charity and now he is one of the strongest advocates of increased taxation on the rich.

“So let’s forget about the rich and ultra rich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased,” he said. “The ultra rich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.” Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet was never an elitist. He believed everyone should have equal opportunities at pursuing his interests and he stands even today as the living proof fair opportunities make up for very successful people.

But for the recorded human history, wealth has been unequally spread. From the dawn of man kind, through the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, one thing was constant: wealth is not distributed equally. For a very long period of time also wealth (especially inherited) also mean life opportunities.

Here’s how we perceive wealth disparity right now:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM]

The long story short:

  • wealth is not distributed equally
  • not only is wealth not distributed equally, but it is actually in the hands of those that don’t deserve it
  • the distance between the lowest paid and the highest paid earners is absurd
Wealth Distribution 1983 - 2010
Wealth Distribution 1983 – 2010. Source: Professor G. William Domhoff, University of California.

Wealth disparity may indeed be a problem. If it meant the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich forever.

But it’s not really that way. At least not anymore.

In the past 20 years the top 1 percent increased their share of total net worth from 33.8% to 35.4%, with a peak of 38.5% in 1995. The next 19 percent increased their share of total wealth from 47.5% to 53.5% and all of these at the expense of the bottom 80%, who lost a 7.6% share of total net worth.

The rich 1% didn’t get much richer. The rich 20% got richer on the expense of the poor. It’s not the rich that take away from the poor. Nor is the middle class disappearing . The middle class is getting a lot richer.

There is a rich 1%. It’s just not who you think it is.

Think about it for a second. Are these categories fixed? Are people in the bottom 80% destined to remain there? Are the top 1% staying there forever?

The previous two examples, Warren Buffet and Ben Graham, although not dirt poor, did not come from rich families. Sure, they were not starving (well except Ben Graham, at an earlier point in his life), but they were definitely not rich.

Yes, Warren Buffet’s father was congressmen for 4 terms, but he did struggle at length in his youth to keep the family finances afloat. Through extensive work he managed to provide a decent lifestyle for him and his family, and thus young Warren was provided an opportunity to put his outstanding mind at work.

So did Ben Graham. His mother inherited a decent fortune from his father but lost it all in 1907, when he was just 11 years old. What he did receive was a brilliant mind and before 25 he already had a $500 000 small fortune.

It’s not inherited wealth. Graham and Buffet improved their financial status with as a result from their innate intelligence and hard work. They did not receive a fortune. They received a fair chance at earning their fortune.

They’re not the only ones. Forbes top 10 richest people are similar cases:

  1. Warren Buffet was born in a middle class american family, earned his wealth through heavy saving and intelligent investments. Worth  $60.3 billion.
  2. Carlos Slim was born to immigrant parents. Slim was early to invest (bought first share at 12). His story is a lot similar to Buffets, although he came from a much poorer background and in a poorer country. Worth $72 billion.
  3. Amancio Ortega, founder of the Zara brand and – was the youngest of four children. His father – a railway worker. His first job, at 14 – shop hand for a local shirtmaker called Gala. Worth $65.3 billion.
  4. Ingvar Kamprad – founder of IKEA – was raised on a farm. He started business as a little boy selling matches to locals. Worth $52.8 billion.
  5. Larry Ellison – founder of Oracle – son of an unwed mother and an italian pilot. He was given for adoption at the age of 9 months. Worth $43.3 billion.
  6. Sheldon Adelson – business magnate – his father was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting shop. Worth $37.5 billion.

And they’re not the only ones. Have a look at Forbes top 400 richest people and you’ll notice the self made billionaire is not the exception. Out of 400 richest people, 386 were self made. That’s an astonishing number. 96.5% of the richest 400 are self made.

So it is not inheritance that builds fortune. It’s sometimes the opposite. As numbers would have it wealth is a result of fair opportunities, a brilliant mind, drive and hard work.

Well … at least if you’re lucky enough to be born in the US.

The opportunity disparity in the world

Income per capita in the world. Source:
Income per capita in the world. Source: Keith Sill.

In the past, before the airplane, the radio, the telephone and eventually the internet chances looked pretty grim for those born outside rich countries. Capital was scarce, life was hard but most of all education was a real problem.

Starting with the industrial revolution, unless you were born in the Western Europe or the Western Offshoots (United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) your chances of getting a decent lifestyle were slim to none. Getting an education – even worse.

So if you are reading this from a computer in the western world and you are complaining about the 1% stealing your wealth know this: 96.5% of Forbes 400 are self made. You have an equal opportunity at getting rich.

Those born outside don’t have this opportunity. Or do they?

Technology made Western World rich

As the world moved from the pre-industrial to post-industrial era some won and some lost. Income grew and grew, helped by the magical vector of technology. Human workforce was replaced by exponentially growing human ingenuity.

The working hand was replaced by the steam-powered machine. Carriages were replaced by cars, trains and railways. Houses were replaced by steel and concrete behemoths. In the western world people were no longer working the fields but rather in factories and offices. Capitalism fought and (relatively) quickly replaced all other economic ideologies.

Marketing and advertising were born to help sell excess production. The stock markets were fueled and exploded. Multinational companies roamed the world to sell the products the West could make better, faster and cheaper.

Technology patents piled up until masses of workers became nothing but managers, lawyers, tradesmen, pencil-pushers. Those brilliant enough to harness the power of technology and improve their peers’ lives were rewarded with vast fortunes.

The temple of the mighty dollar discovered and pushed new concepts and new ways of doing things, growing faster and faster apart from the rest of the world. Until it built the personal computers and the Internet.

The Internet leveled the playing field

When the Internet came online it was a military application. It quickly evolved into an academic research network that spread throughout the world. There weren’t too many people willing to bet big on its economic impact yet the internet economy is now expected to reach 4.2 trillion by 2016.

Robert Lucas, Nobel Laureate
Robert Lucas, Nobel Laureate

Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas stated that economies that are at the forefront of economic and technological development will grow by approximately 2% per year. Those below them are usually kept below by what he called “technology frontiers”. Advances in genetics, IT, robotics and others that help labor and capital be more productive, are technology frontiers. Once technology frontiers disappear, lower economies will grow 2% + an additional growth rate determined by the income gap between itself and the richest country. So – the later the technology frontiers disappear, the bigger the income gap. The bigger the income gap, the faster the growth. The world tends to balance inequality.

Countries that are later to develop can adopt new technologies easier and the main factor that helps emerging markets evolve is technology and education.They can freely adopt and integrate these, without having to go through the research and developed the countries at the top of the food chain had to.

Even though countries may start development later, they tend to reach the same point in terms of income.
Even though countries may start development later, they tend to reach the same point in terms of income.

Internet made everything easily accessible. It quickly became the gateway for anyone willing to access the sum of all human knowledge. Western colleges now post courses online free of charge. Online academies help students become specialists in any desired field, ranging from business, to communication to computer sciences.

In a simulation of Lucas’s model (on the left) you can see how countries that are later to break through technology frontiers are also those with the fastest growth. For most countries the bulldozer that broke through the technology frontiers was the Internet.

With the widespread adoption of the Internet, global opportunities shifted quickly. Countries that were previously kept in the dark by economic conditions, lack of education and poor access to information now had a fighting chance. They were no longer tied to menial jobs and export of raw materials. Giant leaps were made in the past twenty years in terms of global access to information and decreasing the opportunity gap between the Western Countries / Western Offshoots and the World.

Jan Koum’s rags to riches story is deeply iconic on how much the field was leveled in the past years. He grew up in a village near Kiev, Ukraine. He lived through poor conditions until he put his skills to use in the US. Just as his country was being torn apart by an anti-government revolution he sold his company, WhatsApp, becoming a billionaire at just 38.

And it’s not just software, code and people. Goods are quickly moving from country to country, continent to continent. All due to the new electronic markets, enabling global access for small to medium producers and retailers.

Companies such as Amazon, Ebay, AliBaba.com are connecting the world and taking out the middle man. With less losses on the way to the end consumer, products are cheaper and competition is itself leveled. Everyone gets an equal opportunity and a decent start.

The electronic markets are changing commerce for the first time in human history

Take China for example. It was pretty late to the party in terms of economic development. When it did start to grow, it took the world by storm. 

As for electronic markets, China hadn’t had to invent or discover the internet. It just adopted it. It made a great leap forward in terms of manufacturing. It made an even bigger leap forward when it comes to e-tailing and electronic markets:

China's compound Growth rate, 2003-2011 - 120% . China grew 7 times faster than the US.
China’s compound Growth rate, 2003-2011 – 120% . China grew 7 times faster than the US.

If you look carefully at the China’s e-tailing market growth, the growth rate it’s pretty similar to Robert Lucas’economic growth theoretical modeling. China’s quick adoption of ecommerce as a means to get a larger retailing coverage was a breakthrough in a very important technology frontier: electronic markets.

AliBaba.com compared to Amazon and Ebay
AliBaba.com compared to Amazon and Ebay

It is estimated China’s internal ecommerce market will reach $655 billion by 2020. The figure, as astonishing as it may seem, is dwarfed by AliBaba.com’s sales figures.

AliBaba.com, China’s main ecommerce company, is focused on B2B / C2C transactions between Chinese manufacturers and the rest of the world and it reported gross sales of $170 billion in 2012. That figure has only been ever  reported by two companies: Walmart and AliBaba. It was founded in 1999 by 18 people and an initial investment of 22 million dollars. Now it is the largest ecommerce company in the world and quickly becoming an unbeatable force in retail as a whole.

The company is a prime example of how a previously complicated international supply chain can turn into a click of the button. AliBaba is responsible for developments in key areas of China’s economy:

  1. increasing exports by connecting manufacturers and retailers (B2B)
  2. improving retail coverage for the internal and external customer (C2C)
  3. improving Chinese suppliers reliability and accountability through its certification programs

Companies such as AliBaba, Amazon , Ebay are supplying the world with something it badly needs: equal opportunities. With electronic markets easily available and growing fast, people all over the world are starting to have, for the first time in history, equal chances at attaining success.

It’s not Equality, but Meritocracy  is as good as it gets

By empowering individuals to access the same wealth of possibilities, the new tech companies are changing the way we think of human development.

Our history has been sadly occupied by mostly dynastic forms of leadership. Aristocracy, brute force ruling, totalitarian states have one thing in common – unequal opportunities for those that deserve them.

Marxism brought a fake yet inciting concept: that all man are equal. Indeed we are all created equal. We should have equal opportunities. But perfect equality is neither attainable nor fair. Even among equally gifted individuals, drive and hard work can shift the balance more than we care to admit.

Equal access to opportunities is needed and desirable. We have to make it possible that even if the future cancer – curing Nobel Laureate is born in a poor village in Africa, he has the chance to rise. Even if the physicist that will invent faster than light travel will be born in a poor family, he has the chance to reach his full potential.

Our electronic markets are so far the only way we can ensure equal opportunities to all mankind. What made Warren Buffet rich was a brief period of time when stocks were great to buy, his innate intelligence, his access to the best information he can get, a close relationship to an intelligent mentor. And hard work.

Beside innate abilities that turn out to be not so important, everything else above is now available or shortly be available to each citizen of the world.

Companies that are building electronic markets are not overvalued. They are a new breed of companies that work for the betterment of mankind. Knowingly or not. That’s why we need to look at them not from the previous brick and mortar, asset only point of view, but a new one. We need a perspective where we look at a company and choose to invest in it based on a simple question: “Does this company get us closer to an equal opportunity world?”

It’s not all good …

However – be sure equal opportunities do not mean equality. Man was not born a machine. He is a creative force of nature and as long as it will use his creativity and intellect, opportunities will be used.

Unfortunately a dark veil has been pulled over, at the dawn of our productive society. Many of us still act as if we depend on simple, repetitive jobs to make a living. Whether it is our instincts fighting the technology we hardly understand or  a self perpetuating fallacy we must stop trying to act as machines.

The world is potentially free. We must leave all repetitive tasks to technology and become the creators we are able to become. Those that fail at this will be the 80% struggling tomorrow.

Tracking customers in-store. Where is the Privacy?

Did you know that stores use smartphone WiFi and Bluetooth connections to track your movement? Turns out that’s kind of a growing trend right now. Showrooming is ever on the rise so traditional retailers need to act on understanding customers better. Tracking phones is one way to do it.

privacy

There are some companies out there (their number increasing) that provide tracking technologies. One of them is Shopper Trak and I had the pleasure of meeting one of their representatives this week. The company uses a combination of WiFi and Bluetooth signal detection to count, profile and report on customer behavior. How do they that? By registering the smartphone’s MAC address.

What are MAC addresses? Good thing you asked. These are unique identifiers for your smartphone. Kinda like your IP, except they don’t change. That’s one great feature if you’re going to track returning customers. Of course – all of these informations are anonymized and encrypted, as Bill McCarthy of Shopper Trak convincingly told me a couple when I had the pleasure of chatting with him.

Working in tech for some time now – i’m not really so sure about anonymous data but the technology is pretty interesting and its applications can work wonders for multichannel retailers.

Being a online-first type of guy, I was surprised to see the kind of tracking you get with Google Analytics in brick and mortar stores. The first question that popped into my mind was – “Can you compare store tracking data with online analytics data?”. Apparently most of the companies that provide such a service do provide a form of data export that can be used to understand online-offline behavior.

WiFi / Bluetooth tracking is not that popular, due to privacy concerns.

The second question was “Isn’t this thing a little intrusive?”. Probably.

Comments on Nordstrom's decision to track shoppers behavior.
Comments on Nordstrom’s decision to track shoppers behavior.

Last year Nordstrom decided to find out more about its brick-and-mortar store shoppers. They thought they can get valuable intel by tracking who comes in the shop, which products customers buy more, what’s the return rate and others. You know – the kind of stuff all online shops track so they can improve customer experience and increase sales. Except they did this by tracking customer’s smartphones.

But Nordstrom did something that online stores don’t usually do – they posted a sign announcing shoppers they were being tracked. And the shoppers were not happy at all. You can see in the image on the right the kind of feedback they received.

Fearing increasing frustration with their tactics, Nordstrom discontinued the program.

Tracking in-store traffic with video cameras

Some of Brickstream's graphics are definitely not intended to address privacy concerns
Some of Brickstream’s graphics are definitely not intended to address privacy concerns

Atlanta based Brickstream uses a 2d /3d type of cameras to track shoppers inside stores, reporting on queue length and customers behavior.

Brickstream uses path tracking to understand and report customer routes. It also uses height splitting in order to differentiate between different demographics (male, female, child) and 3D technologies to “see behind obstacles”.

Their video intel is, of course, pretty efficient. Used together with mobile tracking- even more so. It is also a little scary for customers inclined to privacy concerns.

Are you are one of those customers? Than you may want to scan through info on the 8 major players in this growing market, Brickstream being one of them:

Companies providing in-store customer tracking technologies

In-store traffic traffic tracking is an industry lead by these 8 companies, with other minor companies quickly growing. The list is provided by “Future of Privacy”, a think tank based in Washington DC, focused on “advancing responsible data practices”.

Nomi tracks customers online and offline
Nomi tracks customers online and offline

One of the younger companies providing in-store analytics, Nomi, which recently received a $10 million funding, mentions the length they go to in order to insure customer privacy. The privacy principles they list on their website are:

  1. Collect, use, and share anonymous information only.
  2. Allow you to opt out of Nomi’s services.
  3. Use industry standard security practices to protect the data we collect.

So everything is cool right? Well…

Good thing you can turn of your Bluetooth and WiFi, if you’re concerned about privacy. Oh, wait…

So far there have certainly been some concerns regarding privacy. Retailers usually addressed them as quick as possible. And when that was not the case – customers could just turn off their WiFi and Bluetooth connection so they won’t be tracked.

As mentioned earlier the technology only works when there is some type of WiFi or Btooth connection that beacons can track. Without it – smartphones are basically invisible. But than Apple thought – hey, let’s change that.

One of the often left out features when it comes to Apple’s new iOS 7 is the iBeacon. The iBeacon is Apple’s response to NFC (near field communication). When an iOS 7 device comes within range with an iBeacon it emits a BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) response. It becomes trackable even when the above mentioned connections are turned off.

And Apple is really committed to using it:

Apple will track iOS users with iBeacons

The Apple Store Visits you
The Apple Store Visits you

The technology laid dormant during the past months since it was announced. Now Apple will instal iBeacon transmitters in its stores. When walking past such a device, iOS users will be notified of additional information they can read and save on their mobile devices.

The technology will offer in-store analytics to Apple, push ads and info to customers, assist in queue lines at the genius bar and of course help with purchases and payments.

Numerous other possible uses come to mind, mostly location based enhancements… Things like door opening for the blind, customized ads, personalized offers and many others will act as an usher in a new age of technology.

This new age, however, does not leave place for privacy.

Online Shopping Started in 1979. Birthplace: the UK.

If you think about someone who was there when ecommerce started, who would you picture? Jeff Bezos? You may be wrong because Bezos started Amazon in 1995, a full 17 years after ecommerce was born, in the UK.

The ecommerce revolution was televised

Back in 1979 a 38 year old innovator put together an online shopping system called Videotex. It was one of the first end-user technologies that displayed interactive information on a TV screen. Unlike most other connectivity breakthroughs of that age, the Videotex was more of a TV than a computer.

Michael Aldrich - the inventor of online shopping
Michael Aldrich – the inventor of online shopping

It was basically a domestic TV connected through a phone line to a central transaction processor.  It might sound simple now but at the time things like e-commerce, online orders, online banking and others were pretty close to science-fiction.

One day, early 1979, Michael Aldrich received in his office a 26” TV, capable of teletext. The TV was able to display news and weather information, broadcasted by the BBC. It had several components that allowed it to do that. Among them – a modem and an auto-dialer.

Those two components proved to be really useful to Aldrich. Later that year, after superficially examining the device, Aldrich was out with his wife, walking their dog, Tessa.

They chatted about the kids and such. At some point the subject of weekly supermarket expedition came up. Aldrich was thinking of how could he make that boring trip easier – and that’s when it hit him: He could connect the modem enabled TV to a central server and help companies process transactions and sell things. Things such as groceries.

Online shopping before the Internet

He worked with his colleagues, set up a basic system and demo-ed it to major companies. As he had sales and marketing jobs before, he was able to convince executives of the system’s competitive advantage.

It as a hit and his team received some heavy requests for the system. He spent most of the ’80s designing and implementing online shopping systems. Remember – this was an era predating even the most basic forms of computer technology – such as MS DOS, the IBM PC , internet and yes, the World Wide Web.

It wasn’t until 1990 that another great brit, Tim Berners Lee would write the World Wide Web and unlock the Internet’s potential.

Tesco shipped the first online shopping order

Truth be told, Videotex never really caught up with end consumers. It was mainly used as a B2B shopping / ordering technology. But people did use it to place the world’s first online shopping orders.

It was May 1984 and Jane Snowball, 72 years old, was pinned in hair chair after she broke her hip. She needed groceries and the local Tesco supermarket had joined a Gateshead Council initiative to help the elder receive groceries at home.

She needed only 15 minutes to learn how to use the remote. After that she was able to choose from the 1000 products available on Videotex. Her order was payed on delivery as no card processing was available at that time. But she did order and the order did arrive.

She, among other senior shoppers, were the first to shop online. What was then a local experiment with little success is now a $1 trillion industry and growing fast.

Aldrich, now a grandfather of 8 grandchildren, may not have been the Jeff Bezos of its time but he is the man that invented online shopping, among others. There was no B2C market for him to work on, but there was a B2B market. His innovations started what we now call the IT industry and revolutionized the way people thought of media (from few-to-many to many-to-many).

This is a man that innovated his way to ecommerce, the IT industry, and basic Social Media notions we apply today. Pretty great, right?

The Reason Why You Should Be Making (Small) Mistakes

When it comes to ecommerce most of us live in a “Fog of War”. What, never heard about it?

What is “Fog of War”?

intel-armyIn military strategy the term shows the uncertainty one has to deal with when it comes to battle area, enemy forces, enemy positioning and others. The “Fog of War” can easily be described as a lack of visibility or understanding of engagement conditions. The less you know, the thicker the fog.

In a given “Fog of War”  situation, you have to maximize intel by diplomatic, open-source or secret intelligence so as to prepare as best as possible to engage the enemy or prepare for any incoming attack. What is definitely not an option is just sit around and expect the enemy to attack.

The basic thing you need to take away is that when in dark, you have to shine some light by exploring nearby terrain and options.

There is no success without failure. But failure is definitely not success.

All in all – mistakes or failures are pretty useless. I mean – of course, Thomas Edison is famous for saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” when referring to his inability to find a decent light bulb.

Unfortunately for most of us trying to innovate our way to success, what this quote fails to mention is that by that moment Edison was successful enough to fund those 10,000 failures.

The fact is failure is still failure. Mistakes are mistakes. There is nothing great or noble in making mistakes. If possible – don’t make them. But if you do – mark them as not to be repeated and than leave them behind.

No one remembers Columbus for his 17 years trying to get a couple of lousy boats to cross over the ocean while NOT discovering  America. No one remembers Einstein for his brilliant carrier as a patent clerk while NOT improving his Theory of Relativity. Everybody gets credit for the things that are NOT mistakes or failures.

However, along the way to success, while discovering and gathering informations to see through the Fog of War, we will make mistakes. Actually most of the things we will be doing will be mistakes. That means we are trying. That means we are searching and while searching, at some point we will come across our objective and then, just then, we will be ready to learn from our mistakes. Not before, because …

We, humans, don’t “learn from our mistakes” because our brain is not built that way

You must have heard the phrase “we learn from your mistakes” so much by now that you consider it a fact. Well – it’s not. When it comes to learning and discovering somewhat complex tasks we are really better at learning from successful actions rather than mistakes.

Apparently our brain remembers short term memories that lead to correct actions and forgets useless details that just don’t work. According to Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience at MIT, “it is reward, rather than its absence, that is driving learning.”

So while trying to find out how to outsell your competitor remember what really counts: the times you got something right. That’s when you and your team will be learning the most important things. And you need to learn and discover new things because …

There is a world of possibilities when it comes to ecommerce

Netonomy.NET being an ecommerce blog, I wrote this post  to encourage you to try new things, to innovate and allow yourself the right to make mistakes. However – don’t settle for anything but success.

Watching Amazon, Ebay, Asos.com and all other big online retailers is not enough. Do your own thing. Try, fail, succeed. The next big thing is just around the corner, if you’re willing to go through some Fog of War.