Looking ahead at e-commerce

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The future is widget-shaped, according to many accounts dispatched from the Shop.org show floor last week. Keynote speaker Donna Hoffman, chancellor's professor of marketing and co-director of the Sloan Center for Internet retailing at the University of California, Riverside, used the podium to talk about the opportunities that Web 3.0 afforded retailers, and called on attendees to find creative ways of harnessing technology to really exploit those opportunities.

OK, Web 3.0 is about a lot more than widgets; it's about the application of intelligent technology to the Web 2.0-defining social-media and consumer-control phenomena. But widgets are a great example of how huge retailers can work extremely nimbly to capture the attention of social-media users. Online retail is not yet at saturation, but social media is growing even faster. A collision between the two is inevitable, and powerful.

It's also for an incredibly wide variety of marketers. When I think of cool brands that might appeal to social-media junkies, I confess that 1-800-Flowers.com doesn't immediately spring to mind. But Loyalty Lab last week announced its application that allows 1-800-Flowers.com to link its rewards program to Facebook. As a part of the link-up, Facebook users can send virtual flowers to one another, which is a stroke of genius that fully takes advantage of the knowledge that gift-giving is a big part of the Facebook experience.

EBay is another company that's jumped on this opportunity. Its foray into the world of widgets (particularly its MySpace-embedded auction tool) is frequently referred to in these conversations, and seems to be a poster child for the cutting edge of online retail's embrace of consumer power.

While it's often said, it bears repeating here: Consumers are more powerful than they ever have been, thanks in no small part to technology. They're building their own widgets, and mashing up technologies to create synergies that have some marketers smacking their foreheads in the spirit of "Why didn't we think of that?" As just one example, software such as Grease Monkey and Microsoft's Popfly allows customers to take Amazon's information pages and mix them up with Froogle's price-comparison page.

E-commerce has indeed come a long way. And to that end, DM News is launching a brand-new Essential Guide to E-commerce that will be published with the December 3 issue. In this new Guide, we will be looking at the aforementioned impact of social media and virtual worlds on e-commerce, as well as a plethora of other issues, including e-commerce growth trends; interactivity; Web analytics; intelligence software; futuristic in-store shopping experiences; the use of e-mail to drive sales and retention; and fulfillment.

We are now accepting pitches for the original features written by DM News staff that will be in the Guide (with an emphasis on case studies), as well as the contributed pieces that power our Essential Guides. Contributors may either submit a brief synopsis as a pitch, or send me a full 500-word piece for consideration. We're looking for pieces from the marketers and e-commerce leaders themselves, and the partners who work with them to power their operations. Spread the word, and join the party. I'll see you on Facebook.

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