The term checkout has been known for decades as the point-of-sale from within a variety of industries; no matter if on- or offline. In e-commerce, however, the checkout is mostly referred to as the process from the point a prospective customer has chosen the products from the virtual shelves (almost inevitably using a virtual ‘basket’ or ‘cart’ as he likely would have done in a traditional retail store), via entering delivery and payment details to the point where the order is completed and the deal is done.
The early e-commerce sites in the mid-nineties have provided as many allusions to the buying process in a conventional store as they could, to create the necessary peace of mind with their customers to make them feel comfortable to buy through a medium they, at the time, often just began to explore. And they were successful pursuing this approach.
However today we are more than ten years older and we interact with online stores in still much the same way as if this was our first dial-in with a 28.8k modem in 1995. And on the vendors’ side there are millions of folks willing to sell their own mass customized or even tailor made creations without being willing to take the hassle of administering their own webshops.
As Harward Business Review, WIRED Magazine, as well as lately BusinessWeek announced 2008 to be the year of the P2P-Economy’s lift-off, it seems quite ridiculous to do business over the web not very different from how we already did an entire decade ago.
So let’s have a rush through the common webshop checkout here, with its typical 5 to 6 webpages, standing between a customer considering to buy and the actual purchase being made. And let’s see where we might be able to use modern days’ infrastructure to improve and smooth the buying experience for the customer while providing the seller with all the necessary information needed to successfully deliver his customers a pleasant puchasing experience.
Step 1 — the Basket (or Cart)
Even though it actually doesn’t make a lot of physical sense to put premium site-memberships, downloadable MP3 music, games or software files into a real shopping basket (as these are likely to remain intangible for their time being), humans obviously continue to love the evolution-proven collecting experience they get when adding their very own choice of items, probably tracked down on some remote website, into an equally non-material basket or cart. But if not even this cart is to stick with physical constraints, why does it still carry around all the disadvantages of its real-life counterpart with it ?
As these are:
- If you leave it alone, it may be gone soon.
- You are not allowed to carry it with you outside the borders of the shop.
- To buy from or simply to compare different vendors, you need to take one separate basket at each of the various shops offering these goods for sale and invest additional time in review and purchase. Just that in the web’s virtual world there is no real benefit from carrying around loads of brand-named shopping bags — not even for women. 😉
- Once you take the cart to the cashier’s desk you are not welcome to postpone of selectively buying only some of the basket contents.
- After the purchase you are left alone with information needs like the "best before"-date or relevance of the purchased items to your own plannings (like ingredients to a certain recipe or availability of a pre-booked restaurant table at your travel destination.
Wishlists like those from Amazon indeed do help here, however they only solve the time issue, but still leave you alone with the two other ones.
So what about turning things around here:
What if YOU as a customer could bring YOUR OWN shopping cart ?
What if you could go on a shopping tour through a multitude of online shops, just adding to YOUR personal cart whatever you like, without the need to care where it comes from ?
You could do your deal comparison in a relaxed manner, similarly to browsing through your e-mail inbox: considering which mail to work on immediately, which to postpone and which one to forward to friends. You could also do re-purchases of products you liked with ease and one-click-order style (hopefully Amazon won’t sue me for that expression).
There is no trouble whatsoever with the technical part of this. Mostly any item sold on the web can be uniquely identified at least by the URL of the page it is presented on. Furthermore telling a vendor what you would like to buy from him, shall be easier than sending a TrackBack ping from your weblog:
Using more elaborate technology like semantic XML descriptions or web services instead, buying with your own virtual basket is going to be much more pleasant than anything you have ever experienced in an online shop by now. This is especially true for the purchase of services, where availability and conditions use to literally change within minutes, rather than days or weeks.
PLUS: You know where it’s going. No strange screens or misunderstandable options to choose from. It is going to be always the very same standardized process — no matter which shop you are actually buying from at the time.