That used to be the common mantra when attending online marketing conferences. The questions surrounding the demographics of online shoppers, and how fearless they were in a world of easily sniffable (re: stealable) credit cards and the rugged individualism it took to have the intestinal fortitude to complete the transaction.
I'm happy to report - after spending three days in Phoenix, Arizona at the Shop.org Online Marketing Workshop - that the overall atmosphere and demeanour around the big brands is no longer about questioning e-commerce as a viable business channel, but rather how to transpose the amazing success they are experiencing throughout the entire organization. While this may not sound like "big news" to you, rest assured this type of conversation (and tone) was not prevalent a mere three years ago.
As the United States preps for a recession, Shop.org announced at the Online Marketing Workshop that the state of e-commerce is actually improving. In The State of Retailing Online 2008 study (conducted by Forrester Research), e-commerce will rise seventeen percent this year tipping it to $204 billion.
"'What’s spearheading online retail sales growth is a tale of two shoppers that visit the web for very different reasons,' said Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research principal analyst and lead author of the report. 'The casual shopper goes online to look for the best price, leveraging the transparency of the Internet to save money. However, more affluent customers appreciate the convenience of shopping online and are not necessarily looking for the best deal. Retailers would be wise to recognize there are significant opportunities within both audiences and should market to them accordingly.'"
In related news, I've been kicking around this statistic from a Nielsen Media global online survey (February 2008): "more than 85 percent of the world's online population has used the Internet to make a purchase - increasing the market for online shopping by 40 percent in the past two years." And while this last quote contradicts what Shop.org is saying, according to the latest issue of Fast Company Magazine in the article titled, Journal-ist: Freedom of Choice, "Worldwide e-commerce spending is expected to surpass $7 trillion this year."
This all culminates into a general thought that the online channel is about way more than online social networks and viral videos. The promise of e-commerce is very real and we're still just at the beginning of where online merchandising will take us. Few are even toying with the the concept of mobile e-commerce - which is an indication of just how nascent this channel still is.
Even as e-commerce enters its teenager phase of awkwardness, pimples and voice changes, it's still out-performing expectations and proving how valuable it is to business at a time when people are really starting to watch what they buy.