Ecommerce finally moves forward

Ecommerce may be finally stepping into a new era. In 1999, a group of colleagues and I built an ecommerce site for a wallpaper retailer. Sadly, not much on the front end design of Ecommerce sites has changed since then; scroll down, find a product, add to cart and keep shopping. Yawn… wake me when it gets fun. Innovation for the most part has been focused on the backend with the obvious goal of selling stuff as quickly and easily as possible.

Personalization comes to life…

Gucci Live

However, Gucci’s new personalized video shopping may have just changed all that (No yawn)! Ecommerce efforts in social media (Pinterest, Instagram, Tik Tok) have given new hope and life into bringing the emotion back to ecommerce shopping. However they have still not evolved a real-time human connection until now. Gucci’s Live, a new online service brings the advisor to the customer. The new effort allows Gucci to be more present (human) in the lives of its customers, when and where they want it (technology).

Marco Bizzarri, Gucci president and CEO, said in a statement when Gucci 9 opened. “The service is delivered according to the values that define and differentiate our brand today: a human touch powered by technology.”

Democratizing personalization

In the near-term this level of service is a stretch for most mass retailers as they continue to use human associates. Creative ones like Gucci will integrate influencers, major stars, etc and perhaps even charge a premium for exclusive ‘remote’ shopping experiences. However, we ultimately believe this could easily trickle down to retailers like Target

Positive COVID impacts

COVID made remote video a reality overnight. The reality of a remote shopping spree with friends in different cities around the world no longer seems like science fiction. This gets us excited about a whole new possibility for Ecommerce!


At PINE we are always looking ahead for what the future might look like, we call these  GLIMPSES. We help Fortune 100 companies translate GLIMPSES into actionable strategies and implementable experiences. 

Special thanks to co-author John Youger

Much has been made of the growth of Smart Speakers (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.) and the impact that these Voice activated devices are going to have on brands. A quick search yields a range of hot takes on the subject including our piece speaking to opportunity of Voice.

Voice presents a myriad of unknowns for brands that will only continue to be more relevant, with 16% of Americans currently owning a Smart Speaker and 55% projected to do so by 2022. This is real growth with potential disruption to the typical areas (e.g. TV) but even the almighty Smartphone. However, despite all the noise it continues to be our opinion that Voice presents more opportunity than risk to brands, at least brands with their house in order (see post above).

While Voice is creating all this noise in the marketplace and the majority of the noise leaning to Amazon with how they are going to kill brands through Alexa, the retail giant has been quietly building an empire that is of much much greater risk to brands. With minimal fanfare the retailer has built up their Private Label business which now amasses to over 70 brands. I realize talking about Private Label is much less sexy and interesting than discussing how a Voice activated speaker is going to be the end of Tide, Dove or another CPG staple brand. But, it is of much greater significance and risk to the very brands that rely on Amazon. This is different than Kroger creating a line of Paper Towels or Target creating a line of food products, this is Amazon.

And the timing could not be better which can’t be a coincidence. Private Label is experiencing a renaissance of sorts with recent growth of Private Label brands surpassing that of branded competitors. With consumer interest and willingness to try lower cost alternatives combined with the perception of Store Brands (e.g. Private Label) stronger than ever before, branded competitors need to be “woke”. Companies like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even Target have been investing in Private Label for some time but none has the scale, convenience and willingness to invest for the long tail (e.g. little to no profit in near term) that Amazon does.

Amazon has money, audience size and both online + offline vehicles to distribute their products. They also have a handy Dynamic Pricing algorithm that makes decisions about changing prices depending on how the competition change them and the sales of that product; always ensuring they are priced at or just below competitors. And oh yeah, don’t forget all that data they have on their shoppers as well as the branded products they buy (e.g. Tide, Dove, etc. aka the competition). Folks, pretty sure this is what is called competitive advantage.

It is still early but their recent expansion into diapers, baby food and laundry detergent builds onto already established paper towel and toilet paper brands. This creates a nice breadth to their CPG product line, one that starts to feel like a very real competitive threat to the folks in Cincinnati (and others who sell CPG staple products). Possibly what is behind news we have seen recently like this? Not saying P&G is scared (yet) but it sure looks that way and they should be. Only takes one try (driven by voice or otherwise) to realize that Presto Paper Towels or Laundry Pods (Amazon PL) save money and do essentially the same thing as Bounty or Tide. Same goes for [insert TBD Amazon brand] and [insert competitive branded player] as they continue to evolve their Private Label offering, the possibilities for Amazon are quite endless while the risk to brands is as well, save for some categories like Candy, Produce, etc.

Unlike like with Voice, we see largely risk, risk and more risk here for brands. That risk is doused with gas when you consider the power of Amazon’s Private Label combined with their Go stores, Whole Foods stores, online presence and Echo growth. You’ve been warned.

PINE is a Retail & Brand Agency integrating the power of business strategy, insights and opportunity-centered design to create growth for our clients. Learn more about PINE.

Our clients are faced with a range of challenges in the changing competitive landscape yet Voice continues to be a source of discussion in meetings. It also feels like you can’t go more than a few minutes without finding something about its relevance, impact and (potential) power.

Some industry leaders are wondering if Voice will be the death of brands. Others are taking a more pragmatic approach. And, JPMorgan Chase is committing by naming VaynerMedia as their Voice Agency of Record. A bit more searching and I would find a myriad of other takes and honestly, don’t know if my brain can handle that.

So with all of these hot takes spanning such a wide range, how do you make sense of it all?

I don’t know that you can (fair warning) right now.

Voice seems more noise than form or function at the moment and it is way too early to tell how it will impact our lives overall, let alone how it will impact the role of brands. I do know that no matter how it comes to life, Voice will cause significant disruption and with disruption breeds opportunity. And we personally believe Voice is much more of an opportunity area for brands than it is a death sentence.

Brands will have to deal with a world in which a consumer can simply say “Alexa, order more detergent”, but will they be willing to have an Amazon Basics arrive vs. their preferred brand?

Early on, we don’t see consumers willing to sacrifice quality. But assuming Amazon’s product prowess delivers on its promises and can match or exceed quality where it matters, Voice will most certainly level the playing field if shoppers just rattle off the product type, “Alexa, I need dish soap”.

But if brands are willing to stick it out, continue to develop products that consumers value and can do so before Amazon makes a duplicate, Voice offers retailers and brands some potentially innovative ways to drive ongoing consumer engagement and loyalty. What if a food brand could provide you simple recipes through a certain voice command that is linked to the packaging? Or if that awkward sound you get when you squeeze an almost empty bottle of ketchup was able to be purchased by Heinz, specifically to trigger re-order (think bidding on key sounds, not keywords). And the myriad of other ways Voice could equate to opportunity.

Be excited (I know I am), we live in a unique and very challenging time for marketers, retailers and brands. But with every challenge comes opportunity.

Michael Reda is a Partner of Strategy & Business Development at PINE.