Could it it really be the midway point of another year is already here?
It is a time when the promises of the first half of the year turn to actions that will define the back half.
It is a time for the industry to take a collective inventory of how prepared it is not just to fill late-arriving orders, but to also help its retail customers tell a story that can pump up the value of its product beyond sheer features and pricepoints.
Lift The Value
It is discouraging to hear firsthand and frequently the conflict today’s housewares marketers face by being urged to invest in new solutions while being pressured often to keep such creativity within stifling retail margin and pricepoint requirements.
It is encouraging, however, that through it all, the housewares industry consistently battles to lift the value proposition at a time of unparalleled price transparency.
The spread of digital commerce is widely held accountable for such price transparency and the commoditization of certain aspects of a business such as housewares built largely on basics. That is why it is both surprising and encouraging to hear that China’s Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce platform, is entering the U.S. marketplace with a strategy that seems to go against the grain, at least for now, of the unedited merchandising approach that has defined the growth of such giant digital marketplaces as Amazon and eBay.
One Of A Kind
Alibaba says its new U.S. internet marketplace— 11Main.com— is offering a hand-selected collection of specialty small business retailers and boutiques that sell fashion items, jewelry, home goods and art including one-of-a-kind items not available at mass merchants and other large e-commerce sites. The site, in its beta phase at presstime, directs shoppers to request an invitation to participate in the experience. Alibaba doesn’t handle the goods, leaving distribution to the vendors.
Alibaba forged its business model as an online B2B marketplace cataloging China’s vast factory selection, seemingly with little discretion, before building its consumer e-commerce platform under such brands as Tmall and Taobao. It is safe to presume that the curated 11 Main strategy is positioned by Alibaba as a differentiated way to solidify a U.S. e-commerce base upon which the company could layer the full scope of its global sourcing and digital merchandising muscle.
Still, Alibaba’s U.S. entry underscores that even in the realm of an Internet retailing landscape untethered to bricks and mortar, engaging consumer loyalty beyond a transaction-at-time basis could require more than an unlimited product listing backed by a super-efficient distribution network.
It underscores what the housewares industry continually strives for in the face of pressures that threaten to mute the stories that can make brands, products and store fronts worth far more than the sheer cost of the goods.
The first half of this year is always full of promise. Promises are only as good as the results they produce.