For most of markets and product categories, the digital channel is still at its infancy stage. On these, percentage of consumers moving online is still not big enough to prove fatally detrimental to on-ground retail. But in some categories in which buying online is becoming the norm, we can now realize about the consequences of most of consumers moving to digital channel.
Let’s take the most obvious case of books. Twenty years ago some e-commerce evangelist would have forecast a rich and highly competitive business ecosystem in which every bookshop, every publisher and even every author could sell directly to readers. But the fact is Amazon has become by far the largest bookseller in the world, currently controlling about 41 percent of all new book unit sales and 67 percent of the e-book market. There are not reasons to think these percentages will not continue increasing in the future, strengthening its leading position towards a nearly monopolistic status.
The digital channel is still at its infancy stage because there is still plenty of room and opportunity for startups (and big stablished brands if they realize how fragile its current “stablished” status quo really is) to become the online interface by default when purchasing many products and services categories, being fast food delivered at home, going from point A to B in a city, or all the rest.
A fight of biblical proportions
The optimistic view of e-commerce pictures an ecosystem of Davids and Goliaths thriving together. This view is contrary to the increasing concerns on small retailers being killed off by large e-commerce brands. Going back to the case in point, the increasing number of bookshops vanishing in our cities big and small would probe the pessimistic assessment to be the realistic one.
It doesn’t have to be like that. It is not the first time we argue collaboration is the answer. Very rarely just one David is good or lucky enough to hit Goliath right between the eyes with a first throw, so to more likely surviving his mighty sword, spear and cuirass, better to try by many Davids collaborating together.
E-commerce players like Amazon have incredible economic advantages. To be honest, it’s not easy to match Amazon-like levels of convenience and price. But, on the other hand, there are still elements of the physical shopping experience that cannot ever be replaced completely. In the case of bookstores, many readers still love the sense of the discovery. Besides, an increasing number of customers is considering that “small is beautiful” when taking a decision as a consumers, feeling good when they buy close home and support their local economy.
One less reason not to skip Amazon
It is only necessary to help them not to have to trade these values for convenience or a lower price. CityShelf is trying to do just that. Born as a co-operative platform of indie bookstores in New York, CityShelf enables customers to browse the full catalogues of aggregated booksellers using a combined search tool. Users can then see what is instore where and compare prices before heading to one of the local stores to make a purchase.
CityShelf is a “passion project” started by poet Ben Purkert, who decided the only way to face Amazon´s dominance was to unite independent bookstores. From New York, the idea appealed to booksellers in another five US cities.
CityShelf offers an aggregated, smarter way to browse, helping booklovers to find books at bookstores closest to them. Purket thinks this service will appeal to consumers who have a particular book in mind and might otherwise be drawn in by the online superstore and its almost unlimited inventory. The team behind the project also expects the data collected could also prove useful to the shops who will be able to learn about literary tastes of the people in their area.