Strategy

Collaborative Commerce: The next phase in the online selling revolution

Kristin Schepici
Kristin Schepici November 12, 2021
Collaborative Commerce: The next phase in the online selling revolution

Despite having a quarter of a century under its belt, the novelty of ecommerce is still prevalent among consumers. The feeling you get seeing a picture on your phone materialize into a package at the door can still elicit a rush of awe, even if you purchase online every week.

At the same time, though, ecommerce is quite far from replacing in-person shopping. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of consumers prefer brick-and-mortar stores. This is understandable, considering that there is a long list of pros and cons for each. For example, the main advantage of online shopping is the ability to do it from anywhere, whereas the main advantage of physical shopping is the immediacy — you walk out with your selected product that very day.

Ecommerce is rapidly closing the gap, however. Delivery times are getting shorter; the range of available products is growing; and, of course, browsing is becoming more and more intuitive. Being able to see all your best options laid out for you on a shelf is difficult to replicate on a website, but it is becoming easier and easier, especially when employing a marketplace.

Why marketplaces?

A marketplace is a hub for multiple vendors to sell at once, allowing the customer to weigh many options and make an informed decision, rather than having to browse dozens of sites separately. Selling your product on a marketplace also increases the chances of a consumer actually seeing your product to begin with, since this is the preferred customer experience and marketplaces receive more traffic. This will help you save money on advertising as well.

When businesses use online marketplaces to sell their goods and services, rather than a singular website for one brand, a world of possibilities is opened for them. This may seem counterintuitive at first blush — why would I want my potential customers to see all my competition if I don’t have to? — but this logic pales in comparison to the heart of the issue, which is what the customer wants. According to Forrester, 63% of online shopping (or more) happens in a marketplace.

A marketplace, such as Amazon, Rakuten or Ebay, endows the consumer with the power of simple comparison, and carries a host of advantages that are still being discovered. Jon Panella, Group Vice President of Publicis Sapient, points out the “indirect values”,” such as customer data, that are often underappreciated. The capability to view exactly what drives traffic, who is buying your products or how often consumers choose a competitor’s similar product over yours is a superpower that brick-and-mortar retailers could never have dreamed of; their customers may as well be secret agents.

This idea of multi-tenant commerce is much more efficient for businesses and customers alike, and companies like VTEX are taking it a step further, with the concept of collaborative commerce. This unique approach to ecommerce is based around connection, enabling vendors to connect with suppliers and distributors and, finally, as the clouds part and the music swells, with their customers. Collaborative commerce allows you to join an existing marketplace or create your own; to dropship third-party products so you don’t have to worry about overhead costs or inventory management; essentially, to engage a network of partners, suppliers, customers and even competitors.

What collaborative commerce can do for you

Competing against a titan like Amazon may seem intimidating, but if you’re up to the challenge, it can help your business flourish in many major ways, as well as some less obvious ones. In addition to selling your own products, you can also provide a space for other vendors to sell their goods. As Panella points out, “As a business, I want more consumers to see my products, or to keep them close to me by bringing them more products that I can’tdon’t have to offer.” Providing these additional options to your customers can help create a sense of loyalty and keep them coming back to see what else you offer.

If you’re just starting out, it can simply be helpful to sell on an existing marketplace. Panella summarizes this desire: “Where can I get my products to adjacent companies that are going to have that relationship with the customer, that I ultimately want to have with them, too?” When you list your products on a marketplace that already has an active customer base, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time, work and chiefly money. Rather than spending time trying out for the team and struggling through training, you found a way to slip right into the game.

With collaborative commerce, you’re also more likely to find a partner you can form a symbiotic relationship with, which gives you an edge against traditional multi-tenant marketplaces like Amazon. As a seller using one of these platforms, you’re like a bee that’s limited to only what the queen can provide; but with collaborative commerce, you’re able to team up with other bees to find a strategy that can benefit the whole hive.

The good, the bad and the B2B

As much innovation is taking place in this world, there is still much that can be explored. Allen Bonde, Research Director for Forrester, refers to the current B2B landscape as the “Wild West” of ecommerce. Contrasted with the various well-known B2C models, there is still a lot of room for platforms that allow businesses to find each other and communicate further.

Panella has clients wondering what else they could be doing to properly take advantage of these benefits: “I’m talking to folks in energy that are looking at, ‘How do I create a marketplace around my energy products and solutions? And oh, by the way, if I’m providing them electricity, or I’m providing them cable internet, well, shouldn’t I be trying to sell them appliances?’” In other words, increasing connectivity increases potential opportunities as well, and once those connections are available, it leads the way for more inspiration and convenience for everybody.

The ultimate partnership

The incredible opportunities of ecommerce aren’t lost on anyone, but it will still be a long time before we see it replace brick and mortar altogether, if ever. There are many instances where the marriage of the two commerce styles becomes the ideal situation, especially for different people with varying shopping preferences. For example, the opportunity to browse online for an item, but personally pick it up at a store the same day, or vice versa — preferring to walk around a store to find the item you want, but finding a lower price online.

Walmart is one of the best examples of this combination. While people usually think of the physical Walmart stores, Walmart.com is a diverse marketplace where users can place orders for delivery or pick-up in-store, and a large portion of the online selection is from various other vendors. All of these functions work together seamlessly through their website or mobile app, and manage to complement the Supercenters and other stores as well.

In this age of communication, it only makes sense to provide connections in ecommerce, not only in B2C, not just even in B2B, but in B2B2B2B2B. It shouldn’t have to be a cumbersome linear design, like a group of teenagers playing Telephone; nor should it be a unidirectional pyramid pointed toward one ruler; but a constantly intersecting and overlapping weave of discoveries.

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