Like so many other industries, software is eating commerce. Trends like increasing usage of mobile devices, massive amounts of publicly available personal data, new operating models, the social graph and new distribution channels are creating fundamentally new possibilities for commerce experiences.
Collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer commerce allows anyone to buy, sell, or rent goods or services from anyone else without a traditional middle man.
Incumbents eBay and Amazon are certainly capitalizing here, while innovators like Etsy, a marketplace for handmade items and arts, Gumroad, a payments company enabling content creators to sell directly to their audience, and Shopify, a platform enabling individuals and business to easily create online stores, are growing significantly.
If you believe the peer-to-peer market will grow, earlier stage startups like Trustev, which provides real time online identity verification through social fingerprinting technology to help combat online ecommerce fraud, and Copious, which focuses on solving the age-old problem of trust by tapping into your Facebook network to make you feel more at ease by showing your "six degrees of separation" from the buyer, seem to be providing essential solutions to the infrastructure.
Personalization and curation
Shoppers are being faced with increasingly higher volumes of content and purchasing opportunities to the point of being overwhelmed. Simultaneously, brands have never had the massive amounts of publicly available personal data at the fingertips before. Curated and personalized commerce recommendations offer value to customers and present great opportunities for brands.
One Kings Lane provides curated time-limited sales within the home décor vertical.
Wanelo gives users, not curators, the power to organize products and buy them via direct links using a pinterest-style interface.
Crowdsourced commerce has enabled consumers to be directly involved in the production process through voting, funding, and/or design.
Threadless is community-driven design platform featuring merchandise designed by and for its user base. Shapeways manufactures products on-demand using 3D printers. Indochino allows users to order custom tailored suites delivered to their door within four weeks using a ten minute measuring tutorial and online ordering.
Social commerce companies attempt to replicate the experience of shopping offline with friends. Studies show that friends (and to a lesser degree, strangers) play a powerful role in influencing shopping decisions. Knowing this, brands can leverage the social graph to identify the influencers within their field and provide customer care as well as encourage social interaction.
Countless studies and reports are showing that more and more internet consumption is taking place on mobile devices. Commerce is no exception. Commerce through mobile devices can create experiences that wouldn't be possible through retail or even web. Including using geo-location to drive highly targeted advertising.
Gilt Groupe offers flash sales on designer fashion items. The time sensitive nature of the deals requires a user viewing from their phone to purchase immediately rather than waiting until he or she has access to a computer. Shopkick bridges the worlds of mobile and physical retail by giving users rewards and exclusive deals as they walk into stores.
The e-commerce companies described are finding new ways to add value to shoppers, and often with higher margins and/or lower capital intensity than was possible previously. Based on some of the technological and business innovations described above, I believe it's a great time to start or invest in e-commerce companies. If you believe the trends and markets described above will continue to grow, I would look there for opportunities.