By: Brandon Schulz, Violet CEO
Though Violet started nearly five years ago, both Rhen and I have been working on different ways to open up the future of distributed commerce for over a decade. In that decade, a lot has changed. As Violet identified our growth targets for 2022, our team sat down to review some of the major trends that emerged in 2021 across the broader e-commerce landscape.
For us, there are three pretty seismic shifts occurring that we think will not only make Violet an essential link in everyday e-commerce, but will change the expectations of shoppers everywhere.
China -> US -> Everywhere -> Anywhere
At Violet, we have customers all over the world and have watched the diffusion of consumer behavior and commerce trends unfold on a near-daily basis.
If you want to know what the future of e-commerce is going to look like globally in five to ten years, China is the closest thing to a time machine you can find. For years now, Chinese consumers have been shopping through SMS, group buying, and live shopping. One-stop super apps like Taobao and WeChat are actively driving the aspirations and product roadmaps for large platforms across other geographies, including the U.S.
But that doesn’t mean China is the only place we’re seeing e-commerce innovation. In places like Europe, the diminishing role of dominant marketplaces like Amazon means there are a lot of great products emerging from smaller and more nimble players. In Africa too there have been a series of start-ups working in social commerce, grocery delivery, and payments that are embracing the model of providing shopping experiences wherever consumers are online.
That kind of global innovation that began in China will only continue to accelerate as it hits more markets and continents, and we think Violet has a central role to play in allowing product purchase to take place anywhere, especially when it happens at the moment of product discovery.
Live commerce: a threefold expansion
One of the many dynamics from China we’re watching closely in 2022 is live commerce. 2021 in particular was a tipping point for this industry, as livestream commerce entered mainstream discourse. Amazon Prime has a shoppable TV app in their Fire OS, and Instagram launched their live shopping feature just last winter.
Specifically, live commerce is advancing across global commerce in three distinct ways:
- It’s advancing geographically, from China, to the U.S. to the rest of the world.
- It’s advancing categorically, into niche, product-specific communities with experts providing guidance and content on the category.
- It’s advancing into new interfaces, beyond TV and mobile apps and into e-commerce websites, app features, and soon AR and VR.
With this threefold expansion, it’s no wonder the industry is projected to expand to $34B by 2024.
What we find exciting here is the democratizing potential that live shopping introduces: we’re moving towards a world in which anyone can launch a live shopping channel from anywhere, in any given context, at any given time.
For potential creators, this is incredibly empowering. And for consumers, live commerce takes an activity that can be isolating or anonymous and transforms it into something that is social, hyper-relevant, and contextually rich. As live commerce online makes it possible to shop alongside peoples’ favorite celebrities or most trusted experts, across any number of online interfaces, it will open up a world of possibilities for how we shop. This means live shopping will increasingly become a major source of revenue. To put the potential of live shopping in perspective, last year two Chinese streamers sold over $3B in just half a day (for comparison, Twitter's annual revenue is around $3.72B).
Checkout for everyone: Instagram-led innovation
Within the realm of social commerce, it’s impossible to talk about market movers in 2022 without looking at Instagram’s catalytic role in broadening the horizons of online checkout.
For anyone in e-commerce today, Instagram is one of the most important places where people discover new products. Their access to large datasets, strength of personalization, and appealing visual interface all make it ripe for product and audience discovery. After the introduction of ads to the platform and the advent of Instagram Live, people have been asking for the ability to buy products directly within Instagram. While Instagram Shopping was a first step, allowing users to see product detail pages within the app, it wasn’t until they launched Instagram Checkout that they set themselves head and shoulders above other platforms for user-generated content. This paradigm shift has set a new standard for what shoppers expect: the "click out to buy" option isn't going to cut it anymore. Online shoppers want and have started expecting native checkout within their online experience, whether they’re on the merchant’s site or not.
Instagram’s decision to introduce a no click checkout experience only confirms what we at Violet have suspected for over a decade: people don’t want to shop on outdated, clunky websites anymore than they still want to shop at outdated malls. They want their shopping to be what we call a contextually rich experience, one that supports and plugs into the activities they already enjoy.
But there’s a huge gap between envisioning an integrated checkout experience and building one. The reason Meta was the first large platform to do this was in fact because it’s so technically and infrastructurally difficult, and only behemoth companies like them or Amazon have had the resources to do it properly…until now. As Instagram Checkout proves the tremendous potential of integrated checkout experiences to attract and retain audiences and customers, more and more online channels will need to offer the same kind of experience to their audiences.
Fortunately, there's no need to wait for a solution to trickle down from the e-commerce goliaths. The solution is already here.
The future is distributed
Violet was built for the future that these market movers are creating: our unified API is designed to connect any channel, large or small, with any online merchant’s e-commerce platform. The promise of Violet is that the native checkout experience people now expect in channels like Instagram will be available on any platform with any merchant.
In essence, we see these three trends as moving us many steps closer to a new paradigm in online shopping that we call distributed commerce. Historically, shopping was an activity people did outside the flow of other activities they may have found more enriching or pleasurable, like reading, gaming, exercising, playing, making music–you name it. But all three of these trends represent a step-change in the way that products are sold: instead of buying from mega retailers and monolithic brands in a few commercial centers, we are entering a future in which people can buy anywhere in the world from anyone with internet access and a smartphone.
In this new paradigm, shopping is folded into more contextually rich and engaging activities, rather than something people have to do outside the flow of daily life. Imagine tuning in for a live concert of your favorite band on Twitch, being able to view and purchase the same guitar they’re playing, and getting it from Fender just a few days later. Or watching a tutorial on YouTube with your favorite DIY renovator and being able to order the full list of supplies you need to retile your own bathroom from within the video. Or going on a bike ride with your friends, and from your smart glasses being able to scan and order the gloves your friend recommends so highly. This is the future of shopping: infinite touchpoints, and infinitely rich experiences through which to find the products and services people want and need. No more shopping; just living.