News and Views

Watching E-Commerce Grow Up

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

When I started working in the e-commerce department at Home Depot in 2006 it was a very different landscape than what you see today. There were very few websites in Canada at the time. Trying to convince Home Depot store vendors e-commerce was worth the time and effort for their products was a constant battle. The Retail Buyers did not love us. We were seen as taking sales away from them. Online exclusive product was seen as competition to the stores, not the enhanced offering it was meant to be. Thank goodness that mindset over the years has changed.

One of the areas I have seen the most progress in is content. Back in 2006, there was hardly any quality content available. Sometimes brands had to actually create copy for us and pay to have images taken. At the time, that was seen as pretty hefty investment and few wanted to do it. For vendors, coming up with product copy and images was time and effort they didn’t want to spend. And lets be honest, the return on that investment at the time was going to be minimal. Some of the images we received were so bad they looked like they had been taken by someone with a digital camera in their garage. Countless times, we received images that were dark, blurry and on some weird background. E-commerce wasn’t important and they definitely didn’t see the value it in. Then try to convince US brands to pay for french translation and you had some pretty big hurdles to get over before getting product online.

Fast forward over a decade and e-commerce has come a long way. Many brands have invested a huge amount of time and money into producing great content, images, videos, copy, to sell their product and tell their brand story. To the point where at my last job, we couldn’t even use all of the content being offered to us. Older websites didn’t have the capacity to house more than a few images and video was out of the question. Asking vendors what content they had available was an entire discussion in itself and if they didn’t have what you were looking for, they said they would CREATE IT FOR YOU! That is how far we have come folks.

Now in a time of global pandemic, e-commerce is one of the ways retailers and brands are still able to sell to consumers. No doubt it is helping keep some afloat right now. For retailers and brands who didn’t have an eCommerce site up and running before this, I’m sure they reacted very quickly, possibly at the expense of sacrificing experience over efficiency. Regardless, at this time, it was the right thing to do. Unfortunate it took something so extreme to get them to move in the e-commerce direction. Platforms like Shopify have made it easier for smaller businesses to have a professional looking website. I’m impressed every time I see a small business launch and their website is already capable of taking and fulfilling orders. Its great to see and allows me to replenish products from smaller brands I wouldn’t be able to buy from otherwise.

I hope in the future this channel continues to be as important as it is now. Countless articles spell out the advantages of offering multiple channels for customers to shop. It will be interesting to see what happens to e-commerce once things return to normal. Will companies still place as high of an importance on e-commerce sites? What kind of funding will there be to improve it? From my side, what can we do as Buyers to shift our experience over to this channel? Personally I am of the mindset that Retail Buyers are not as necessary as they once were. For websites, some kind of product management is still needed in some capacity, so what can we do to prepare for that? If I figure it out, I will let you know.