3 tips for designing an innovative commerce experience

4 min read
Mike Wolf
  •  Jun 10, 2015
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Let’s rethink the way we design the ecommerce experience.

Amazon’s already doing it with Dash buttons. Need detergent? Hit the button in your laundry room and they’ll bring you more.

They’ve placed their store UI right inside customers’ homes. Genius.

Building a traditional dot-com ecommerce experience, paying for ad traffic, and re-engaging customers through email marketing? That’s all headed out the door. Do it that way, and you’ll be lucky to turn a profit and keep your doors open.

Over the last decade, I’ve worked directly on enough commerce projects to learn how to increase your chances of success in this space. Here’s a closer look at 3 of the best ways to do that.

1. Plant seeds

Replicating Amazon’s web/mobile experience?

They’re going to eat you for lunch. They’ll beat you on price, distribution, and years of built-up, solid-as-a-rock consumer trust.

Instead: carve out a niche and win on creativity, be early to new technologies, and rethink the commercial landscape.

Get into a creative mindset by challenging the step that’s most difficult to solve. Examples of challenges:

  • How will you acquire users?
  • Once you get users, how will you get them to come back and buy again?

It’s fine if you don’t immediately come up with answers—there are no shortcuts here, and you’ll need to put a lot of thought into the question while it’s in the back of your mind for weeks. Or months.

Ask yourself the same question every day. Through repetition, you’ll plant it into your subconscious and become more aware when something seemingly random triggers an idea.

My inspiration for this thought process comes from this 30-minute YouTube video narrated by Earl Nightingale. In the video, Earl draws a parallel between the human mind and a farm.

He may plant in that land whatever he chooses—the land doesn’t care. It is up the farmer to make the decision. Invariably, the land will return what is planted. Now the human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and more mysterious than the land, but it works in the same way. It doesn’t care what we plant. What we plant, it must return to us. It will return anything we want to plant.

We should be planting amazing ideas and challenging questions in our minds—and we should think about them every day. Whether it’s a week or 3 months from now, at some point ideas and answers will start to emerge and evolve into something beautiful.

When it happens, you’ll know it. You’ll want to stop everything and get to work.

2. Upgrade your mind’s software

Today’s arguably the best time ever to innovate on the commerce experience.

Faster web-based applications, the prevalence of smartphones, the release of smartwatches and other wearables, drones, and 3D printing are all here. And then there’s everything that’s right around the corner, like high-quality virtual reality headsets and driverless cars.

Today’s arguably the best time ever to innovate on the commerce experience.

You’re falling behind if you’re not already getting into these technologies. The software in your mind is nearly outdated, putting you at risk for only coming up with outdated ideas.

Others who’ve experimented with these technologies for months and years before you already have ideas planted that they’re starting to execute on.

But it’s not too late to feed your mind and become more comfortable with these technologies so that you’ll eventually begin to realize their potential. Some ways to do that:

  • Browse Hacker News
  • Follow people on Twitter who are working on emerging technologies
  • Buy new gadgets and experiment with them

One of the lucky few who’s always first to absorb new technologies? As your ideas mature and become more clear, go execute on them so the world can benefit.

3. Rethink the landscape

Keep your eyes open for gold in the landscape—both online and offline.

We’re just starting to see more innovative commerce experiences enter our homes. Human-powered services are coming online, and mobile apps send payments for services with just a tap.

Traditionally, the online commerce experience primarily revolves around using and interacting with text, images, buttons, and form fields. Rarely would you find services using humans to make the core experience more enjoyable.

Most services provide online chat support, but I don’t consider that human-powered. There are humans behind every service, but rarely are there humans creating a seamless experience and helping you make decisions.

But true human-powered services are starting to emerge. Trunk Club is one of them. Connecting you directly to a stylist who will help build your wardrobe, Trunk Club makes endlessly digging through clothing websites a thing of the past.

Instead of trudging to the doctor’s office, patients consult with a physician through a mobile app like Amwell. And gambling sites are ditching computer-based blackjack dealers in favor of streaming real people.

These examples only scratch the surface of what’s possible with human-powered services. The changing landscape of the web means we’re going from purely interacting with software to interacting with humans who provide an experience similar to the offline world. Now’s the time to plant ideas for building the next generation of human-powered services online.

There’s plenty of potential with web browsers, too. Consider Chrome’s New Tab page. If you can build a compelling experience within that screen and get thousands of people to install it, they’ll be re-engaging 10-20 times every day. Very few services are able to achieve this type of re-engagement, and you can achieve it all for free.

Do what nobody else is doingTwitter Logo, find real estate that exists within real-world environments or within the digital world, and embed compelling services within them.

People will use them.

My recent experience

The question I planted in my mind a few months ago: “How can I create a compelling ecommerce experience within Chrome’s New Tab page?” I let that sit for weeks, thinking about the types of products people may want to purchase in that setting.

The idea came—and along with it, motivation to build a proof of concept. 2 days later, I launched Tabstract, a Chrome extension that displays a piece of abstract art each time you open a new tab. Independent artists create all of the art, and people can purchase pieces through an affiliate link.

A month and a half later, over 1.5 million pieces of art have been viewed on Tabstract.

The idea came—and along with it, motivation to build a proof of concept.

Final thoughts

Every tool we use, every man-made object that surrounds us, every app and website we visit, all exist because someone had an idea. The creators planted the ideas or question in their minds months or years ago, let them mature, executed on them, and produced something totally new.

It’s simple: innovative experiences can’t exist before the ideaTwitter Logo. Ideas and questions are the seeds to innovation—not just in technology, but in everything.

So start planting better seeds, upgrading the software in your mind, and rethinking existing landscapes. You have the ability to come up with the next innovative commerce experience.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard