April 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

E-commerce: The shape of things to come

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The power of social networking sites, he adds, is that they enable small retailers to play on an equal field with larger retailers in building brands. “Big brands can’t generate and dominate trends the way they used to,” Connell says. Roots Canada already is getting significant traffic from ThisNext.com and other sites including MySpace.com, Facebook.com, TotallyLoveIt.com and ShareYourLook.com, he says.

Connell is also looking to improve Roots.com by learning from third-party site Like.com, which lets shoppers search multiple sites for products with particular characteristics. Shoppers can enter a search phrase like “men’s red wool sweater with buttons,” which in this case produced a product that met that description at Amazon.com. Another option is to click the shoes on the photo of a model to call up a list of similar products from multiple retailers. “That kind of visual search will become more prevalent both for Internet search and internal site search,” he says. “We’re looking to see how we can apply that to our site.”

Someone get the phone!
While third-party sites continue to play a bigger role, e-retailing is also about to get a boost from the relatively personal mobile commerce, becoming more widely known as m-commerce (see story, page 14).

The size of their viewing screens restrict the usability of most mobile phones as shopping devices because shoppers must scroll through text listings of products that online retailers make available through mobile commerce. But another option for building m-commerce over the next year or two is mixing old technology with the new, Connell says.

For example, an online retailer could advertise on highway billboards or on commuter trains a limited selection of products available on their web sites for textual listing on mobile phone screens. The idea is to promote on-the-spot buying. “Retailers could have targeted selections of products available to purchase over a digital device,” he says. “Just as we’re providing for the immediate delivery online of digital content like music, we’re looking at ways to provide immediacy into the purchasing of physical goods.”

Making mobile phones even more usable as shopping devices, Connell adds, is supporting their function as payment devices-an option already becoming more available through providers including eBay Inc.’s PayPal and Cyphermint Inc. In payments and overall e-commerce operations, the key to the future is providing something of value to the shopper, Connell says. “We’re trying to innovate,” he says, “to show that the Roots brand adds value to consumers’ lives.”


Couch potato’s dream: TV as shopping device

Stay tuned, couch potatoes. TV commerce is coming.

“The future is full of TV commerce,” says James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Like that blouse that Susan (Teri Hatcher) is wearing on “Desperate Housewives”? Just click the “buy this blouse” button on your screen.

Although it’s too soon to say exactly when that shopping scenario will take place, initial development of technology is under way, McQuivey says. But there’s much to do. As an initial step, cable TV, satellite and telecommunications companies are building Internet Protocol capabilities for television content delivery networks, which will enable them to offer video on demand at lower costs to homes served by broadband Internet access.

This will provide consumers more flexibility in choosing product videos on a TV shopping channel, and let them see real-time inventory availability before clicking their remote to make a purchase. “This first step will help consumers, retailers and TV providers learn how TV commerce works and they’ll go from there,” McQuivey says. “The Internet has taught people how to shop electronically, so their behaviors are likely to be transferable from the PC to the TV.”

The next step, he projects, will be TV programs with pop-up commercials that enable viewers to click into more details about products featured in the program without leaving the program itself. “Then you’ll start to see a ‘buy this blouse’ application to purchase what Susan is wearing on ‘Desperate Housewives,’” he says.

But it won’t stop there, McQuivey adds. “If the blouse on ‘Desperate Housewives’ wasn’t offered for sale through a Buy button, the TV show could be tied to a visual search engine that will find similar blouses across the web from online retailers,” he says.

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