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The new commerce opportunity
What buyers and sellers really want
Welcome to the Sociology of Business. If you are not subscribed, join the community by subscribing below and joining the Sociology of Business Discord. You find my book, The Business of Aspiration on Amazon and you can find me on Instagram and Twitter. For those new here, in my last analysis, The Web3 Talent Gap, I looked into the web3 talent’s skillset and mindset.
The commerce space is busy. There are traditional mono-brand retailers like Rimowa, multi-brand retailers, like Walmart and Target, marketplaces like Amazon, secondary marketplaces like TheRealReal and 1stDibs, social marketplaces like Depop, package shopping and tracking apps like Shop, vertically-specialized marketplaces like Bezel and The NTWRK, blockchain-powered marketplaces like OpenSea …
Dozens of sites offer marketplace and auction and social sharing functionalities, but few of them offer a complete, all-in-one commerce experience.
A complete commerce experience: a) empowers sellers through business and tech tools (e.g. proof of ownership), while also giving them a wide user base; b) gives buyers guidance and community; and c) brings influencers (curators and critics) into the mix as the key players in evaluating and contextualizing goods.
Sellers seek control over their presence on a commerce site, in addition to setting the price for their goods, revenue sharing, and ownership management. They also look for the ability to connect directly with their buyers and prompt buyers to spread the word, thus growing their customer base and market footprint. While a number of commerce sites provide social and direct messaging features, seller promotion and market growth tools are still rare.
Among sellers, there are (at least) four types:
Novice sellers are low on their marketing budgets for their Shopify-powered sites and are looking to expand their customer base. They are looking to promote their shops, build their market and grow their community. Director Clint of Corteiz Bolo is in this category.
Veteran sellers are Etsy, eBay and Amazon masters. They make a living off their sales and look for a most favorable revenue share. The Urban Clothing Shop is in this category.
Pragmatic sellers diversify and sell across different platforms. They are looking for the best presentation, best commission and the fastest authentication and sale. They also benefit from having exposure and a regular buyer community. TikTok vintage sellers belong to this category.
Lazy sellers are people who want to get rid of their stuff and are looking for the fastest and easiest way to do so. They go to TheRealReal, ThreadUp, Depop, and often all of them. They don’t care about promotion, just about offloading their items as quickly as possible. While favorable revenue share is a bonus, it is not their main motivation.
Right now, the centralized commerce platforms are designed to reward through commission structure and exposure only the veteran and pragmatic sellers. Examples are TheRealReal commission structure geared towards VIPs and the sellers that are featured on their home page. The top sellers have the most control over their items and the prices they are setting. Relatively new sellers - and non-VIPs - on TheRealReal struggle through low prices and never-ending discounts on the top of them. In contrast, the Vestiaire Collective allows sellers to set their own price, but does not provide promotion tools and exposure needed for sellers to get their items widely seen and bought. On both platforms, most sellers never make it big.
A more complete seller experience is outlined below:
The new commerce opportunity is to offer sellers ways to widely promote their items, find other sellers to partner with, control prices for their items, obtain proof of ownership, and cultivate their community and grow their market.
Pure commerce sites, like Amazon or Walmart, lack community. Amazon helps consumers discover things to buy, but not each other. OpenSea offers proof of ownership, but no social tools or scale. Scrolling through TheRealReal takes forever because there is no curation beyond the items featured on the home page. Lack of curation is a big miss because simple discovery feels more like entertainment than like a chore and it drives commerce. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Depop and TikTok revolve around community, but only their biggest sellers thrive (see above). Instagram provides high connectivity, but the commerce experience is still lagging. Traditional retailer communities are a little more than a mailing list. The NTWRK is a great model of combining curated live streaming and commerce, but is narrowly geared to streetwear fans and sneaker heads.
Among buyers, there are (at least) four types:
Connoisseurs love the obscure. NFTs, sneakers, jewelry or Japanese denim are the lens through which they see the world and themselves. From their shopping destinations, connoisseurs expect guidance in finding the right sellers, the right items, and the right deals. They seek critics and curators to help them evolve their taste and provide a never-ending stream of new discoveries.
Super fans literally buy anything from a brand or a seller they are obsessed with. Their focus is narrow but deep and they have the wealth of knowledge not just about their favorite products but also about their favorite sellers and brands. Super fans seek an exclusive relationship with their sellers and connection with other like-minded obsessives.
Selective buyers have time, attention and money only for the best of everything. They seek guided discovery to lead them to the right things and to learn their taste. They use their social graph as their discovery tool and they rely on their friends to learn about the latest and the greatest.
Scrollers are everyday buyers with everyday taste. To them, commerce is entertainment and downtime, not an identity marker. They don’t think about their purchases, just enjoy them. Simplicity, ease, novelty and entertainment are keywords. They don’t care to know about brands, sellers, or products beyond their size, fit and trend-value.
The full buyer experience is outlined below:
The new commerce opportunity is to offer buyers ways to easily discover new sellers, to support the sellers they like, to grow their collections, track drop dates, maintain their buyer reputation, share their finds with other buyers and to be entertained.
Culture influencers are highly active individuals that affect perception of buyers and sellers when it comes to value of items. There are two types of influencers: critics and curators.
Critics are the voice of authority. They are committed culture worshippers who turned their love for culture into a career.
Curators are archivists with an audience, in charge of the culture remix. Their job is to be plugged in.
Although they don’t participate directly in the commercial exchange, critics and curators provide context for this exchange, assigning it cultural value and meaning.
The new commerce opportunity is to offer critics ways to learn about new sellers and brands, keep current of what’s happening in terms of new products and trends, build their reputation and personal brand and grow their own collections.
The new commerce opportunity is to offer curators ways to discover new culture creators, to connect with top sellers and buyers, to promote themselves and grow their community, to partner with brands and media, and/or easily discover new references to mix.
Summary: core business drivers for sellers, buyers and influencers
In my conversation with Daniel Giacopelli of Courier, we covered how the new commercial ecosystem, shaped by curators and a new class of buyers and sellers, is changing businesses models and growth trajectories of modern brands. Listen to our conversation here.