February 4, 2013, 10:38 AM

Editor's Letter: New thinking

E-commerce is inhospitable to laziness. The industry moves so quickly to adopt and adapt technologies that phrases like "it's how we've always done it" don't hold water.

E-commerce is inhospitable to laziness. The industry moves so quickly to adopt and adapt technologies that phrases like "it's how we've always done it" don't hold water. Reinvention is a key to relevance in online retailing, and it is what ties together the stories in this issue.

First, this issue's cover story (page 26) tackles the issue of web design and how e-retailers are trying to tailor their web sites to operate effectively on the devices consumers are using to access them today. Just think: Three years ago, Apple Inc.'s iPad was still a rumor, and the iPhone, which effectively made mobile commerce possible, is not yet six years old. In December, IBM Corp. says consumers using iPads accounted for more than 8% of traffic to its clients' e-commerce sites. Other tablets and smartphones accounted for nearly 14%. It's pretty wild to think that in less than six years more than a fifth of web traffic has shifted to mobile devices.

E-retailers have to be quick to rethink their design approaches to accommodate such dramatic shifts in consumer behavior, or lose ground to others who do. The trouble facing e-retailers today, and what requires new thinking, is that the path forward in some cases hasn't been cleared. A lot of retailers hope someone else will do the trailblazing. The cover story introduces some retailers who are whacking at the weeds using a design approach called responsive design and finding solutions to the problems that inevitably come up with any new, untested approach.

Following that theme, another story shows how two e-retailers, Ice.com and e.l.f. cosmetics, designed their m-commerce sites (page 14). Each says it is important to first devise an m-commerce design philosophy to guide the decision-making process, even if there is no solid proof that the approach taken is the best. Start with a philosophy, they agree, but don't get locked in, and leave room for change.

Switching gears from mobile, on page 18 you'll read about a handful of e-retailers who've decided traditional web design—if there is any such thing as "traditional" in web design—isn't the right path for them. They've designed their sites to merchandise primarily through video to give themselves a competitive edge.

And finally page 40 features a story about business-to-business commerce, another area of retailing where the Internet and e-commerce is forcing the development of new approaches. These days it's increasingly common for buyers working for corporations and government agencies, who buy everything from machine tools to office supplies, to discover b2b sellers of those goods first online, rather than by answering a phone call from lead-nurturing sales reps. They're placing their own orders online through e-commerce platforms adapted to allow for the intricate pricing and often-customized requests of b2b buyers.

Internet Retailer mostly covers business-to-consumer e-commerce, and reading this b2b-focused feature sparks a lot of questions about how advances in b2b may inform b2c. For example, b2b sales teams know all about wooing prospects and engaging customers. How they're doing that in an online environment may provide lessons to retailers. If you are a b2b e-retailer or are thinking about getting into b2b and have questions you'd like answered, please e-mail me at allison@verticalwebmedia.com and let me know what's on your mind. That will help us provide better coverage about this important and growing area of e-commerce.

Allison Enright, Editor

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