Agencies should seek opportunities in on-line buying

With regard to your Comment on e-commerce (DW 28 January), the Internet has transformed business and is about to change the way regular folks lead their lives, too. But, are the new opportunities only to be found in digital media and advertising agencies when Internet companies are targeting consumers?

New product relationships will be made on-line and where the products will be delivered, for example, at home or work, as opposed to in the aisles of supermarkets or down at Dixons. Design agencies should keep an eye out for new business opportunities lurking in the relationship between consumers and products from on-line buying. It is plausible, should online consumption increase to its expected level, that many new designs/ products will be needed between consumers and Internet companies. It is likely that branding and packaging design aspects will be those most affected by this change as two very influential aspects in the above relationship.

For instance, on-line grocery shopping has not lived for very long, but it is already worth an astonishing £125m a year for Tesco, according to Verdict Research. Tesco, however, is not alone in the field of on-line supermarkets – so far Iceland and Waitrose have led the field. Waitrose has already built a logistic key component with its Waitrose@Work, delivering groceries to offices of participating companies, such as British Airways and Virgin. Sainsbury’s is not very far behind. On-line sales are predicted to account for up to 10 per cent of the grocery trade within five years. Such figures carry implications for designs that have formed the traditional relationship between consumer and product.

A main branding aspect is, of course, the name or the category of a product, which will become paramount since searching the Internet is text-only based, with no other form of searching in the pipeline. Searching on-line means that the spelling of the produce just has to be right or else wrong product or brand might be presented. This also means that products with ambiguous or long descriptions have to be streamlined for consumers ease-of-use, depending on the design of these sites and the amount of products on offer. Better, easier browsing and interface design may ease this effect, combined with artificial intelligence interpretation.

When consumers are coming in first-hand ‘contact’ with purchased products at home, and not as earlier, in the supermarket aisles, they might want nicer looking and feeling objects. In the aisle it is easy to see a ‘logic of conformity and space reduction’, however, when the aisles no longer exist there is no reason for this logic to exist. Also, the materials used in the packaging design is then set to change as we proceed to detach ourselves from the shelves at the real supermarket, creating the first experience of products in our homes.

Delivery is a third aspect, and has caused some concern due to inherent impracticalities of on-line logistics. Most people seem likely to want groceries delivered at around the same time, say around 7pm after returning from work. To solve this kind of problem some companies have thought about delivery boxes where groceries can be stored until the consumer arrives home. Some companies have asked garages to work as pick-up places for its products, but then again it will not be much different from a drive-in whatever. There are some physical problems that need be addressed as many groceries do not like heat, cold, humidity, etc. However, again this depends on the amount and variety of products on offer.

Furthermore, the process of returning damaged/ unwanted goods must improve, since this might be why we do not want to venture down to the supermarket in the first place: i.e. consumers will expect perfect results or else they will turn to another company that promises just that. And, as we have been taught by the Royal Mail – a majority of customers do not complain, rather they turn to your competitors.

I propose that there are brand new design or ‘designerly’ opportunities arising from e-commerce (apart from portable browsers and the like) that should be explored and identified. This would provide the design industry as a whole with a rejuvenating injection of commercial stage.

Thomas Andersson

thomas@vitaminblue.co.uk

Latest articles

What we loved at Milan Design Week 2018

From a fully functional American diner through to Google’s unnerving house showing how technology has taken over our lives, we round up our favourites from this year’s Italian design festival.