The Real Future of Shopping

Loyal readers are already aware of the OTTO Store and my part in creating it. In a past post I questioned whether this is the future of shopping or not, but left the question unanswered. Well, the answer’s simple. No. It’s not. What is the future of shopping? Step right this way and I’ll explain it all to you.

Hah! Do you really think I’m arrogant enough to believe that I can predict the future of such a fast moving market? Forget about it. I have, however, been thinking about the subject quite a bit during this project, and I can certainly share my thoughts and guesses as to where the market could be going.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, this is the OTTO Store:

The OTTO Store is an application (i.e. it doesn’t run in a browser) which the user downloads and installs locally. For the purpose of catalog downloads and the order process, it’s connected to the net, but otherwise everything you see runs locally. The OTTO Store was and is for us in the Studios a job, which means the basic idea (an e-commerce app which runs in Vista) was defined before we started. Although we asked ourselves early in the process if it couldn’t all be done better/faster/the same in Flash, it was and remains an irrelevant question. It was simply a Vista project. This made it possible for us to learn a hell of a lot, and, considering how unavoidable any new Windows release is in the long-term, we earned some rather valuable competence, making us one of very few agencies in Germany who can pull something like this off. And for those of you who’ve been following my articles about the Store and are beginning to get sick of it, I promise I won’t be writing any more about it for a while after this.

So, is the OTTO Store really the “next generation of internet shopping” that the marketing says it is?

Yes?

Well, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. “In browser” internet shopping in Otto’s market looks like Eddie Bauer, Gap or Abercrobie & Fitch (when did they go soft-porn?). Sites like these — and almost all of the internet to be honest — are essentially clickable books. Read from top to bottom, typography and photos, turn the page. Yes it’s sometimes non-linear, and books certainly can’t be clicked, but essentially a web page is exactly that — just another page.

A page has no “here”, which is to say, it’s about as unimmersive as it gets. A page can inform, and a page can inspire, but a page can’t give the user a feeling of having been somewhere and experienced something, which the OTTO Store can and does. This is definitely the most interesting difference between the OTTO Store and the Web we’re all used to.

No?

Regardless of what’s cool about it, the objections are simply too many to crown the Store the future of shopping.

Imagine this idea really takes off, and every company that has a web store today wants an immersive Vista Store tomorrow. I’d have to download and install OTTO, Amazon, and every other store where I shop online. Every app would be a closed environment, with it’s own look, sounds, and more importantly, interface, which means I’d have to learn how to buy the junk I want all over again for every store.

I’ve also seen comments that the OTTO Store can’t be a long-term success because it’s not “open” enough. The web is a pretty open system. Any user can jump from any web site to any other any time, and they don’t need anything special in order to look at (and buy at) any site other than freely available browser software. So the web is just a medium — like 3D space in the real world — in which companies can set up shop. The openness of the web and the 3D interface of real life is reflected better by Second Life (although the user experience is still pretty dismal) which provides an open and theoretically unlimited space which an company or individual ca buy into and present themselves and their goods. By contrast, the OTTO Store is like being locked in a room full of OTTO products, and not being able to leave, which is not likely to be that big a success with consumers in the long-term.

Maybe.

Do I think every shop that wants to sell online is going to be building software for Vista this year to do just that? Nope. Is the OTTO Store an interesting and important step in the right direction? Sure. And I can’t help but being surprised by and proud of OTTO, a relatively conservative company, for taking such a bold step in an uncharted direction. It may not be the future of shopping, but OTTO has shown what an online shopping experience can be like if you put user experience first.

Comments

  1. QuiBono says:

    People are looking for two things while spending their free time: meaning and experience. Online shopping doesn’t even try to be more than satisfying requirements (“how to buy the junk I want”). Shopping malls try to be an experience to their customers. None of this can replace shopping in a traditional urban environment like people already did a hundred years ago. You don’t just fix your needs – you give unexpected things a chance to happen.

  2. boharris says:

    Matt, I downloaded the OTTO store app and played around with it and that is very cool! It definitely shows how the user experience can be designed to be more enjoyable. With the oncoming (and much anticipated) release of Silverlight, do you think that we can expect to see more sites designed with this kind of look and feel? Interested to know overall what your thoughts are on how silverlight will affect web site design.

  3. Mb. says:

    I’ve got to be totally honest and say I’ve only heard marginally about Silverlight. My thoughts based on what little I’ve heard:

    – Sounds like, if you squint, Silverlight is Flash, but deals with video a bit better. I hope this motivates Adobe to improve Flash video.

    – It’s another rich media plugin based thing, so at first it’s pretty irrelevant for the majority of users who don’t have and don’t want another plugin.

    – That said, Microsoft will surely make Silverlight a preinstalled plugin (probably already is, right?) which means it’s only a matter of time.

    – And, the big question which occured to our team many times during the OTTO Store development: why don’t we just do this in Flash? In that case we had political and client-based reasons, but why would anyone who can hack AS in their sleep want to deleop anything in Silverlight?

    My feeling (yep, feeling, not informed opinion) is it’s an MS attempt to chop off a chunk of Adobe’s market share. Considering their clout and influence through Windows, they might have a chance. How big the chunk will be, and how many real rich media experts will care to switch if another question.