E-commerce innovation list for 2018

It’s that time of the year again when lists of potential influencers make news. From the richest to the most innovative and many more. While any such start-of-the-year list may seem like déjà vu, it’s mostly addictive to go on such a knowledge trip. In that kind of a reading binge, online shopping came across as a compelling subject in many of the innovation lists — across blogs and journals. It was not about what’s being sold online, anymore, but how.

While several innovations across food to cabs have been listed out for 2018, in-house delivery of products stood out as the most striking service in the e-commerce space. Amazon had made an announcement late last year in the US (Amazon Key) about such a service, but many other e-commerce companies are tipped to try it out this year to get past the delivery pain. A recent international report said online shopping companies are even working along with lock manufacturers to be able to deliver parcels inside the house while the owners are away at work.

E-commerce companies and startups in India have not really demonstrated their innovative skills so far, but India has been a testing ground for innovation, especially in online shopping. Cash on delivery, for instance, was truly a made-in-India or made-for-India service, that got replicated in some other parts of the world after it was a huge success in this country. Going by that, in-house delivery may hit the Indian market sooner than we think, even though the concept has faced plenty of hurdles even in the US.

For those who are yet to catch up with the smartest ways of selling things online, in-house delivery is all about locking your house with a password, which can be accessed by the e-commerce company to open the door and keep the parcel inside, safely. The password can be changed after the package has been delivered to prevent any misuse. The other built-in protection is a camera that comes along with the lock so that nothing goes unnoticed. 

Amazon priced the lock-camera package at $250 at the time of launch in select cities in the US. That may look like a prohibitive price to just get some stuff delivered at home for a lot of Indians, but there will be many who would want to try it out for its sheer convenience. Think of it: No need to bother your neighbour or leave an important office meeting to collect a gizmo, book or a dress that you wish you had never ordered. The flipside is the delivery man may forget to lock the door in a hurry or your pet may slip out of the house while a product is getting placed or think of the sheer discomfort of letting a stranger in while you are away. In India, there could be many more complexities, which are in the realm of the unknown. 

Other than in-house delivery, the other favourites in the innovation list for 2018 include the exotic value-adds when physical retail meets e-commerce. A niche site called it a “combination of showrooming and webrooming”. The trend has begun and is likely to catch up this year. Among the early starters are some marquee online and brick and mortar stores offering “experiences’’ spread over large areas. Premium coffee, hairstyling, state of the art tailoring, stylists, manicure, craft beer on tap, musicians and more while you collect your online purchases or select what to buy. One such brand even hardsells its “cold rooms’’ so that woollens can be tried in exact winter conditions. 

The third in the list of favourites would be how augmented reality (AR) is getting popular while shopping virtually. So more and more apps are now letting you visualise the objects as they are before you order them. It’s true for anything from a sofa set to a bath tub. In fact, Houzz, an online community on architecture, lets you place virtual objects inside your room the way you want, before you can click on a buy. Sweden-headquartered furniture major Ikea too offers such an app. This feature, according to analysts, is expected to help solve the problem of returns worth hundreds of billions of dollars in e-commerce.

Finally, it’s the checkout that should be painless too in any retail experience. Coming to help is mobile check out even when shopping in a physical store. Global projections show mobile checkout would be a preferred mode of payment in any shopping experience, without waiting in a queue to pay up. Shop, swipe and leave.
2018 may bring at least some of these closer home.

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