Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In A Perfect World - Online Storefronts

As I was thinking about a topic for today's blog post, I kept coming back to my dream for a Perfect Storefront Platform. There are a few existing platforms that have elements of my perfect platform, but not one of them fits the bill completely.

For purposes of this post the definition of agnostic is: open to all platforms, marketplaces, advertising and payment options -- not likely achievable in our competitive world, but I can dream. That's my definition anyway.

In A Perfect World, the Stores Platform of my dreams would have:
  • Unlimited Inventory Capacity. This is mostly so my Media selling brethren could load up their inventory.
  • A Shopping Cart - I know that will make most of you laugh, but eBay Stores is the largest Store platform in the world and they don't have a shopping cart.
  • Platform Wide Product Search - Basically all the inventory, in each of the stores on the platform could be found in a Store Search. Kind of a GoogleBase just for the product on the platform. There would be no additional listing charge to be included in this search other than if a seller wanted to be featured. The key would be that this is a simple product search not a new Marketplace.
  • Tiered Pricing - Monthly hosting charges would be based solely on SKU count and features. Entry level to full service. Each marketplace or advertising venue would charge their own fees and a sellers could determine if that venue is worth it for their business. Update: Perhaps a reasonable GMV fee model might work
  • Marketplace Agnostic - Sellers on this platform could list their product on multiple marketplaces and have their inventory managed. If you have 10 Mulan DVDs, why not spread that inventory across multiple platforms, including your own storefront.

    Google or Microsoft would be the only large companies out there that could truly be Marketplace agnostic.
  • Advertising Agnostic - Even if Google or Microsoft created this platform, sellers could still do a PPC ad campaign on Yahoo if they chose. The point of this "Perfect World" idea, is to provide all of the options available to advertise your product. It just comes down to budget and resources for the seller.
  • Payments Agnostic - A sellers could offer any payment option they chose. Google Checkout, PayPal, Checks, Money Orders, Merchant Account or possibly a "New" payment option on the horizon.
  • Limited Rules - Unless the product is illegal or harmful, a sellers should be able to sell it on the platform. There would be no huge need for Trust and Safety. Of course there would be some level of restriction for categories with regualtory oversite like Firearms, Drugs, etc as well as the vices like Adult products.
  • Sales Tax - Reporting capability built in. I know you may laugh about this but Amazon WebStores doesn't have this capability.
  • Shipping Services Agnostic - Basically, sellers would have a robust suite of options for shipping. USPS, DHL, FedEx, UPS, Frieght or Local Delivery.
  • Basic Design Templates - 25 or so different looks to get people started but open the door to Design companies to do much more if the seller chooses.
  • eMail Management Program - this would help sellers manage sales on multiple platforms..

I could go on and on, but you get the point. There are over 19 million small businesses in the US and eventually most of them will be online. This is really the next gold rush in ecommerce. Imagine the leverage the platform would have with each marketplace, search engine and payment solution.

Currently, the options are limited, but there is a template out there for this new platform:

  • eBay Stores has over 500,000 existing stores worldwide and could only do this if they added a shopping cart and spun-off the stores platform. The problem is eBay won't be agnostic about competing services and marketplaces.
  • eCrater has a platform wide search but is limited in resources and can't handles the big sellers.
  • Yahoo Stores is a great platform for independent web stores but can't serve as an inventory management platform for other marketplaces.

Google doesn't do ecommerce very well, but they are most suited to develop this type of platform. If there is anybody from Google reading this blog, please email me. We need to talk.

Update: As I re-read this, I realized this sounded a lot like ChannelAdvisor without the store platform. A combination of Google and ChannelAdvisor would make this idea sing.

Scot Wingo, please give Eric Schmidt a call. :)

Just my 12%

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