5 min read

What's wrong with e-commerce

What's wrong with e-commerce

E-commerce catalog designs–a thing of the past!

Let’s create new experiences.

Because the current one we're using are ugly. Can’t you see it?

Before e-commerce era, how were products sold?

Once upon a time, before the digital revolution, shopping happened in person. People directly interacted with physical items. And then, catalogs came into play. Almost every household had one. Catalogs were crucial; they simplified shopping, especially when distance was a factor. A notable player in this era was Sears and J.C. Penney.  J.C. Penney discontinued its Big Book catalog in 2009 after a collective 121 years of catalog experience. The catalog was typically priced at $4 or $5, and to everyone, it was worth it–it was the shopping Bible. Catalogs weren't just for purchasing; they showcased everything you could buy, from clothes to houses to cars.

Online shopping changed the way people shop. Michael R. Ward discussed this in his 2000 paper. He highlighted the shift from catalog shopping to using websites. But for e-commerce to reach its full potential, it needed to be more than a digital catalog.

These layouts have become familiar to people over time.

Designers are used to creating these layouts.

And it worked.

The use of credit cards online posed a major issue. Once the challenge was overcome, online shopping became significantly easier and more accessible.

If it worked, why did we change it?

Older people are familiar with the saying: 'If it isn't broken, don't fix it!' Since everyone was accustomed to this traditional form of shopping, and it was effective, the question arose: Why change it? To older generations, this method was highly successful, and many fondly reminisce about the ease it brought to their lives. However, younger generations today perceive this shopping approach as limiting. Growing up with multifunctional digital phones, interactive games, and laptops, they had little exposure to catalogs or other fading paper forms like magazines or newspapers.

In February 2000, Michael R. Ward wrote a paper titled "Will Online Shopping Compete More with Traditional Retailing or Catalog Shopping?" The paper demonstrates that initially, e-commerce attracted customers who would otherwise have purchased from catalogs.

He predicted: “To be sure, the volume of e-commerce will grow as more consumers have access to and develop experience with the Internet. Wider spread adoption of e-commerce may require advances that make websites more than just catalogs via a different medium.”

Why should this concern you?

Millennials and Gen Z are skilled with technology, excelling as programmers, marketers, tech founders, cryptocurrency millionaires, and influencers. With the ability to afford expensive products, these demographics collectively represent a significant consumer force. In the USA, there are 67.17 million Gen Zers, and soon they will outnumber millennials.

How are Millennials and Gen Z shopping?

For Millennials and especially for Gen Z, if you're not online, you don't exist. Everything needs to be quick, intuitive, and provide a unique Human Experience. Yes! The essence of the Human Experience, as Steve Jobs termed it, is still very much alive. It is not dead.

There was a study conducted by VUT in Prague. The survey was addressed to 136 respondents aged 15-24. The research included data from a survey and from two organizations: the Czech Statistical Office and the Czech Association for e-commerce. The data came from 1,360 individuals who were between the ages of 25 and 55.


  • GenZ is shopping 3x of the Gen X or Gen Y in alcoholic beverages online.
  • Food and non-alcohol was 2.5x higher for GenZ than GenX/Y.
  • GenZ shops five times more than GenX and GenY in the Movies category. In all other categories, GenZ does slightly more online shopping than other generations.
  • Online music, hotels, and trips are nearly 10x more frequent for Gen Z than Gen X and Gen Y.
  • Gen Z primarily uses online card payments. However, unlike Gen X and Gen Y, Gen Z utilizes Apple Pay significantly more (2x) and Google Pay (nonexistent for Gen X and Gen Y).
  • Gen Z, unlike Gen X and Y, is less concerned about personal data misuse. 
  • Gen Z is not afraid to pay extra money for superior products (2x as often as Gen X and Gen Y).

What experience do they expect?

  • Sleek design
  • Multi-gesture
  • Always working
  • Fast responsivity
  • Simple navigation

Forbes research shows that the average attention span of GenZ is 8 seconds. So, be sure to grab their attention quick. With attention, of course, comes usability of the website and solution to a problem. More below.

The research article states that Gen Z shops on websites less than Millennials. Dozens of businesses have confirmed this to me.

I have a theory. Having run a web design agency for 5 years, I have some experience to base it on. My theory is that Gen Z really doesn't like the user interfaces of current catalog-like websites. This theory is supported by research from the Czech Statistical Office, which found that Gen Z buys more films and music online. You can look it up. Those websites, for sure, have a better user experience than electronics shops and wine shops and websites.

According to a study by American Express, 23% of Gen Zers will drop a brand if its mobile features are poorly designed.

What can I do as an e-commerce business?

If you're a big one - nothing; you will die. On the other hand, you can invest in creating several smaller businesses, each with a unique playful user experience. People will shop if they have ZERO HASSLE.

Here's what to do:

  • Create super cool Human Experience
  • Utilize animations
  • Ensure humans are in control.
  • Remember, on the other side of the screen, there are humans too. Make it a two-way street by actively including them.

The 3-click customer-centric e-commerce era is here

Step 1: Simple! Simple!! Simple!!!

Contextual Shopping: Instead of overwhelming customers with technical details, guide them based on the context. For example, in a wine shop: What's the occasion? A romantic dinner, a casual gathering, or a festive celebration? What's the season? A crisp white for a summer afternoon or a robust red for a winter evening? What's the meal? A light wine for seafood or a full-bodied one for steak? These are the same questions you would ask in the store, right? Why not on the website then?

We propose using a Large Language Model trained on your wine store data as a personal assistant.

Step 2: Storytelling and Experience

Each product has a story – where it’s from, who made it, what makes it unique. Bring your stories to life, bring them to the forefront. Let customers connect with the wine beyond its taste profile. It's about creating a narrative that they can be a part of.

The interface is intuitive and interactive. We grew up as gamers, constantly interacting with moving pixels on screens. Accessibility and education are crucial. Our aim is to simplify wine education, making it less complex. We'll use simple and engaging content to demystify the terminology. Our goal is to turn the intimidating choice into an exciting discovery.

Step 3: Use modern payment solutions

No more long checkout forms. Apple and Google Pay buttons store the delivery address and payment information. All you need to do is click on that button.

This marks the end of filling out:

  • Long address forms
  • Long credit card numbers
  • Long 3D secure systems
  • Long account creation

With a click of a button, all the necessary information will transfer to our database and create the order.

Not only the wine

You can apply the same thinking to any industry. For example, the other day, I found a shirt configurator. It's an amazing idea! Really. The only issue is they offer 12 different collars, 4 different collar stays, and 3 different collar stiffness options. I would have to study to be a tailor to understand how to choose one.

My proposition: Do the same but change the choices. Instead of offering options for collars, provide choices for occasions. Instead of having over 100 fabric options, offer choices for thickness, the desired look, etc.

Try it. Fail and iterate.

Make it work.

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