Is the website really on the way out or is about to become a boutique e-commerce accessory? Either way, it means businesses will have to rethink how they approach digital engagement.
Most businesses, especially retailers, now have multiple options available that make their website storefronts secondary revenue generators at best or even irrelevant. The growth of multichannel, and what’s come to be called omnichannel, has meant the standalone e-commerce website is not always the best place to capture and funnel sales. Businesses have been looking at apps as one of the prime drivers of engagement and sales, along with a shift towards online marketplaces too. But we’re in an era of perpetual change and disruption, so just as businesses have got their heads around the idea of building an app, along come bots.
Facebook’s director of product design, Eric Lax, says in this interview with Mashable that consumers have reached the point where they are really only regularly using about seven apps, and the shift is to interactions with bots in messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber and Slack.
“I think we’re about to move into a new phase where bots are a really interesting dimension. It’s not an app you’re going to download in the way you do now. I think [bots] are really fascinating — they might be the next generation of what we think of as apps,” said Lax.
He reasons bots will provide consumers with a more intuitive and streamlined experience than apps – another step on the evolutionary path of digital.
Of course Facebook has a very real monetary interest in businesses moving their resources and focus away from websites and apps and onto its platform as the primary point for engagement and transactions.
This is part of an ongoing consolidation of power among the big three internet companies – Google, Facebook and Apple – that sees these three companies trying to create “walled gardens”: operating systems and ecosystems of content and services that attempt to lock-in and keep consumers happy within the walls as against venturing into the open web. This leaves consumers and small business operators in a position of having to navigate between these various domains.
However, just as bricks-and-mortar stores have not vanished in the wake of online, so too we’ll likely see the traditional website maintain its place on the internet. As with physical storefronts though, we are seeing the function of websites gradually change as they become part of an omnichannel strategy rather than the focal point.
It comes down to businesses knowing how their customers expect or prefer to interact, and looking at the relevant data to gauge how your business meets those expectations. This also means being aware of what your competitors are doing because if they get the jump on you with something like bots, and it results in them picking up customers at your expense, it could spell serious trouble.
My fellow SmartCompany blogger Craig Reardon has written on this subject several times over the years. Last week he wrote about “The Big Four Website Types”, and it was a worthwhile reminder that for the majority of consumers, websites still matter:
“Certainly there’s a customer expectation that if they are serious, businesses will have a good website to at the very least provide some basic information about what it is they provide.”
The traditional website is not going anywhere, anytime soon. It’s certainly evolving and some of its functions are changing. We see the practical aspect of this with things like contact forms, which have become a bit of an irrelevance in this day and age of immediate social media interaction and live chat. People are far more likely now to leave a comment on a Facebook business page or tweet a business than fill out a website contact form.
It’s up to businesses to work out what role the website plays in their digital strategy, and resource and tailor it accordingly. That could mean your website becomes little more than an internet anchor point, a post office box address, or you could see your website as the means to create something truly unique – a boutique destination that provides users with an out-of-box experience.
Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.