Global ecommerce sales reached $4.9 trillion in 2021, and it's no secret that the sector has disrupted traditional retailers. Yet over the last few years, giants like Amazon have become so dominant in the space that they've become the "old guard" they once disrupted — opening the way for a whole new set of disruptors.
Let's look at what three of the most exciting new ecommerce companies have achieved over the last few years, and what they can teach us about disruption.
These days, Shopify is a company that no longer requires an introduction — it has more than 2 million daily active users, making it the third largest ecommerce company in the U.S. But just in case it's slipped your radar, Shopify is a platform that allows anyone to seamlessly, affordably set up an ecommerce store. It offers not just web hosting, but also tools to help businesses add products and track inventory.
This removed the entry barriers smaller companies with limited budgets face when starting stores — both for existing businesses with physical premises looking to expand online or entrepreneurs hoping to enter the scene for the first time. Yet unlike Amazon, companies could have an independent online presence rather than relying on a marketplace.
When the pandemic hit, this became even more of a winning proposition. More companies than ever were forced to move online, accelerating the slow death of physical stores. Shopify became the quickest and easiest way to achieve that for businesses to do exactly that, and it doubled down on its position by introducing new features to help these businesses build their stores.
Another interesting aspect of Shopify is that it focuses on empowering small brands rather than forcing them to compete on price.
There are two important lessons for disruption: The power of providing a simple solution to a real problem, and of differentiating yourself by targeting a slightly different customer base (businesses that wanted to be empowered).
The rise in plant-based diets has been a huge trend over the last few years, but anyone who follows this lifestyle will know that it can be a nightmare to identify products that are truly ethical and free of animal products. Enter PlantX.
The Canadian ecommerce store has earned the title of "the Amazon of plant-based" among many due to its commitment to the lifestyle. It stocks thousands of vegan products on one website, plus a meal delivery service — meaning those who want to follow a plant-based diet no longer need to switch between multiple products and platforms. It may even expand to other areas, such as clothing, water and cosmetics.
This proposition has clearly resonated with consumers, because the company reached a monthly revenue of $1.3 million in just five months after starting from nothing.
The story of PlantX demonstrates the success of choosing a specific niche and going all-out to be the go-to for that audience instead of trying to be everything for everyone. Part of its recipe for success is similar to that of Shopify: The focus on building a community rather than aiming to become the next ecommerce monolith. PlantX has also launched YouTube series and apps to help focus on this connection.
3. Chewy, Inc.
On the surface, Chewy's offering is simple enough: It's an ecommerce platform that focus on just about everything related to pets. This includes food, medication and other types of supplies (with more to come, such as possibly vet appointments). Similarly to PlantX, it rose to success out of a belief the buying experience for a specific audience — pet owners — could be made much more convenient and enjoyable through a dedicated site.
Chewy was launched back in 2011, but really reached the next level when it was acquired by PetSmart in 2017 (for $3.35 billion no less), and it became publicly listed two years later.
It goes above and beyond to help a user feel connected to its platform by offering a way for them to get everything they need for their pet in one place and get them delivered regularly. The platform feels much more personalized — shoppers are treated not just as shoppers but as pet owners, so they feel like the love for their furry friend is recognized.
Disruption is personal
To many people, the word "disruption" has connotations of cutthroat capitalism, especially in a market as competitive and tight as ecommerce. Yet the brands above can show us that achieving successful disruption can come from something as simple as building a community and making consumers feel seen — whether for their entrepreneurship (Shopify), their commitment to veganism (PlantX) or their love for their pet (Chewy, Inc).
The ecommerce space might seem impenetrable at times, but targeting a specific customer base can change everything.
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