Heather Udo is the founder and CEO of Shoppable®, bringing the checkout experience to anywhere a consumer engages with products.


Retailers have always focused on being a destination and attracting consumers, whether it be to a physical location or an e-commerce website. While consumers still shop that way, data also shows that they want to be able to buy at the point of inspiration — meaning anywhere they can discover products and be inspired to purchase them. 

This is why you’re starting to see companies like Google and Instagram focus on enabling consumers to purchase products from within their own experiences, but also from third-party brands and retailers. Removing friction from the purchase path by allowing consumers to buy at the point of product discovery doesn’t replace a retailers’ e-commerce site, but rather, it’s an extension of it. This allows consumers the option to “buy now” within shoppable content or continue to the retailer’s website to purchase — whatever is best for the consumer.

Retailers and brands always talk about listening to consumers and being where their consumers are, but in order to do that, they need to invest in their technology to enable that growth and innovative experience consumers are craving. Facebook released a study estimating that $213 billion of revenue is lost every year due to friction existing in e-commerce.

The Shift To Distributed Commerce

In the last several decades, retailers have made most of their investments in their physical locations. But when the pandemic hit last year, foot traffic became non-existent for many retailers. Suddenly, even mom and pop retailers were focusing on e-commerce technology. Many retailers had no choice but to accelerate efforts that, to date, they had put off for the future. 

One thing is crystal clear: Distributed commerce is on the rise, and retailers without the right technology will miss out on marketing, sales, and new customer opportunities. It’s more important than ever for retailers to select the right e-commerce partner and foundation.What exactly is distributed commerce? It’s meeting your customers everywhere they are, enabling them to purchase your products in-store, online with in-store or drive-up delivery, or online with at-home delivery— however and wherever the consumer decides.

Who Is Winning At Distributed Commerce — And Why?

The retailers and brands that won 2020 are the ones that adopted or evolved for new consumer behaviors and the increased demand for true omni-channel commerce before the pandemic even hit. In particular, Target and Walmart were both moving toward this customer experience, and their plans were accelerated by the pandemic. As a result, those two retailers offer more options to buy their goods than any other retailer out there, including Amazon. Target is also offering same-day delivery in partnership with Shipt, a company they acquired in 2017, increasing their delivery options to include ship to home, buy online with in-store pickup, drive-up, and then Shipt same-day delivery. This has delivered a huge 23% growth to Target over the previous year. 

Instacart has a similar success story, and even with increased mobility post-pandemic, many grocery customers are still having their groceries delivered to their homes because they enjoy the convenience. Simply put, habits developed during the pandemic are sticking around.

Giving Customers What They Want

New experiences demand real-time inventory and pricing and flexible checkout technology to collect orders from multiple digital locations and platforms. Consumers are everywhere, from mobile apps to Instagram, to Tiktok, and then to a Buzzfeed article. While they’re jumping around, they’re discovering new products — everything from tech gadgets you didn’t know you needed to beauty secrets to pet toys — and they want to purchase those items immediately, without leaving to go to another site. If they can’t “buy now,” often they will just abandon the purchase. It’s all about integration and the “power of now.”

Consumers also want to tie in their loyalty points wherever they purchase products. Retailers should invest in loyalty APIs as well. For example, Sephora’s loyalty program is tied into Instacart’s checkout process and is a highly effective program as a result.

Staying In The Game

Three years ago, roughly half of all product searches began at Google; today, 63% start with Amazon. Changing consumer behavior is obviously fueling Amazon’s growth while cutting in on other retailers’ sales, simply because of convenience. 

How can you stay in the retail game going forward? Here are a few good ways:

Think in terms of distributed commerce. Make your products and their delivery available in every possible way. Detailed product feeds with frequent updates are essential. Don’t limit sales to your own website or physical location.

Develop a solid technology plan. You need to build or buy into a platform that is flexible and expandable, as consumers’ needs continue to evolve. Make a deeper invest in your own platform, or choose a future-oriented vendor to partner with going forward.

Update your marketing strategies. You need to make your black dress available from the Instagram page where it’s showcased, not force your customers to look for it on Amazon, or try to drive them in-store.

Don’t forget about good customer care. Make sure your customer support team is fully looped in on any new platforms or offerings, so they can comfortably guide the customer on the path to purchase.

Stay ready for the future. Your technology needs to scale as your business and consumer needs do, so build out APIs that can grow with you. For example, TV commerce is already on the horizon: Are you ready for it?

In the end, it shouldn’t matter where a customer purchases your goods; it should only matter that they purchase your goods. From wherever, whenever they want — and delivered to wherever they want or need it most. Technology’s job is to make that possible, while staying ready for the future.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?