Future Of The Feed: E-Commerce Channel Fragmentation Is Just Starting

How fluid systems can pick up where fixed ones are failing.

I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen an innovation in e-commerce feed management for nearly a decade.

That’s not an exaggeration, and if you’re an E-Commerce Manager, you know I’m right.

Veterans in the space will remember when Amazon first revealed their vision so many years ago and courted brands and sellers to shift their focus from direct-to-consumer website sales to the Amazon channel.

Since then, much has been said of brands vs. Amazon. That discussion will continue for a long time… but as a feed software CEO (whose brand partners with companies like Shopify, Demandware and Magento), I can tell you it’s not a matter of one versus the other. There will always be a deep and dynamic (and co-dependent) relationship between Amazon and brands.

The real question, instead, is about what this means for the larger ecosystem, and how E-Commerce Managers can prepare themselves for a changing landscape.

After all, this isn’t really about Amazon.

It’s about the coming future of e-commerce fragmentation as players like Walmart, Jet, Google and others play out their channel strategies in an Amazon world.

To put it simply, we can expect more and more channels in the next 2–5 years as these players — and inevitable new ones — vie to claim a piece of the pie. The pendulum is starting to swing the other way.

… and for you, the E-Commerce Manager, that means a more complex selling environment.

You’ll soon understand how the choice before you lies in fixed feeds vs. fluid feed management.

But first, let’s consider the landscape.

A changing tide.

There are 2 major trends directly ahead of us that I believe will dominate the future of e-commerce feed management.

#1. The proliferation of screens.

If it has a surface, you’ll be able to buy on it.

… and our most intimate surfaces are the ones that matter most.

Amazon and Google’s messy race into the home shows us how important this is.

They believe in voice, and are testing a myriad of Echo and Google Home devices for any kind of hardware that will ‘stick’.

But you can bet that brands who have already dominated our homes for generations — brands like G.E., Samsung, KitchenAid, Bosch and so many others — won’t give up their territory so easily.

Any surface that can hold a screen will become a new battleground.

Soon we’ll be seeing:

  • Your refrigerator telling you need more eggs — and giving you a seamless order link
  • Your dishwashing machine offering you a list of soap purchase options, just as you begin to run low
  • Oven screens that allow you to order a full recipe worth of ingredients, without having to source each item yourself in-store
Your next buyers will order directly from their Samsung’s 2016 Family Hub fridge.

…and you can expect to see a parallel phenomenon happening outside of the house as well:

  • ATM machines screening you products available nearby
  • Interactive street ads with one-touch ordering for pedestrians
  • Walmart and other brick-and-mortar incumbents erecting screens on their shelves to complete their in-store offers

As more screens appear in our daily lives as consumers, the more e-commerce will fragment.

More screens equals more channels — with each player wanting to own more of the journey that their product, surface or service has created.

The fight for the screens in your home has only just started.

#2. Our current age of consolidation is about to see a swift turn toward fragmentation.

Take a look across the Atlantic and you’ll see massive marketplace fragmentation is already a reality in Europe.

The signs are here in the U.S., too:

  • Players like Jet.com and Walmart pushing back in the states
  • Google Shopping’s imminent resurrection
  • Twitter facing investor pressure, and experimenting with new revenue streams
  • The Google and Bing fight to lead the LIA industry/Mobile2Stores (I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming article)
By the way, nobody needs to beat Amazon in order for this to happen.

E-commerce still has huge room to grow, and a bigger pie makes room for more players.

Each one of these players wants to capture more value from the buyer’s purchase process.

Whereas once they simply sold clicks, companies like Twitter and Google are now ready to move up the order value chain.

The E-Commerce Manager’s dilemma.

This all brings us back to my original point.

E-Commerce Managers haven’t benefited from a major update in feed management in a very long time.

Not only have we not seen any innovation in in the past 10 years, we haven’t seen any new entrants, either.

When we started our company in this space in 2007, I would have never guessed I’d be saying that today.

But it’s not hard to see why it happened.

The major legacy systems out there today share the same secret every other legacy player in every other undisrupted category has:

Fixed feeds pass off the cost of feed management to E-Commerce Managers, forcing them to handle different channels with different interfaces and processes.

These fixed feeds, instead of rebuilding their tech to fluidly manage all channels with one elegant solution, they have tacked on more and more ad-hoc workarounds to their core fixed feed platform.

We’re living in a fixed feed world.

That’s the way legacy systems work. They don’t change or adapt. They force E-Commerce Managers to change and adapt to a fixed, sub-optimal system.

That’s what a fixed feed is. And as an E-Commerce Manager you pay the price.

E-Commerce managers are forced to manage different channels differently, even within the same system. That may work for you today, but not as your company grows, or as the world around your company changes.

That has a knock-on effect for everything from migration to publishing.

Fixed feeds may work in a fixed world, but e-commerce is about to experience a huge shift.

GE, Samsung, KitchenAid, Bosch, banks, outdoor ad companies, brick and mortar retailers… nearly everyone will find it more logical to create their own channels with their own non-standardized feeds, as it’s the only way adapt their historical systems.

That leaves E-Commerce Managers with a very big problem.

The burden then falls on them to make sense of the complexity.

How will you manage increasing complexity with a legacy feed tool that can’t adapt?

Fluid feed management solves a problem Fixed feed management can’t solve.

This is a reality that me and my team have been tackling since Day 1.

We believe that in order to really create the feed management software of today and the future, you have to rethink the entire fixed platform itself.

That’s why we created fluid feed management — a new AI-powered platform that behaves very differently than today’s legacy systems — and something we want to help share as the new standard for all players in the space.

The base philosophy of fluid feeds is what separates it from fixed feeds: the underlying AI is built to adapt to any kind of feed, so that every single new channel that may emerge in the future can be managed with the same single interface by the E-Commerce Manager.

Fluid feed management makes the E-Commerce Manager immune to fragmentation. As e-commerce complexity increases, the simplicity of the fluid feed stays the same.

When you have a smart AI that can produce the same interface and system for all channels, a tremendous amount of friction, invisible opportunity loss and costly error is eliminated across the board.

Fluid systems also ensure you have complete publishing across all channels. That means extremely granular tagging not only synced across all of your channels, but automatically adapted for each specific channel without losing resolution.

And of course, fluid feeds also solve the question of migration. Because the platform’s AI understands your data feeds on a deeper level and can make smart decisions about matching information, migration is nearly automatic. Fast, reliable and low-touch.

We consider this a fundamentally new approach — and it only works when you recreate a new technology from the ground up.

It’s time we took a hard look at our space and decided to disrupt ourselves in the feed management industry.

We may never stop living in the Wild West of e-commerce, but we can embrace the change and make the most of the ride.

And lastly, I want to leave you with this:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
R. Buckminster Fuller

It’s a personal philosophy of mine and my team’s, and one that I hope will help all of us push through to the next generation of e-commerce.

The future of e-commerce is here: channel fragmentation.

PS: if you are an Ecommerce Manager, my other article “The Future-Proof Ecommerce Manager: A Manifesto” could interest you.