Ding, dong, the Web is dead

Which old Web? The World Wide Web, and, says Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of LivePerson, the first brick falls this year:

When we started building websites in the mid-90s, we had great dreams for e-commerce. We fundamentally thought all brick-and-mortar stores would disappear and everything dot-com would dominate. But e-commerce has failed us miserably. Today, less than 15 percent of commerce occurs through a website or app, and only a handful of brands (think: Amazon, eBay and Netflix) have found success with e-commerce at any real scale. There are two giant structural issues that make websites not work: HTML and Google.

In the case of HTML, it’s an instance of “We were never intended to do that”:

In the early years, we were speaking in library terms about “browsing” and “indexing,” and in many ways the core technology of a website, called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), was designed to display static content — much like library books.

But retail stores aren’t libraries, and the library format can’t be applied to online stores either. Consumers need a way to dynamically answer the questions that enable them to make purchases. In the current model, we’re forced to find and read a series of static pages to get answers — when we tend to buy more if we can build trust over a series of questions and answers instead.

How often do you get the answer you need on your first trip to the FAQ? Not very, I suspect.

But that’s a design problem. The 800-lb gorilla in the room is far more sinister in intent:

As Google made it easier to find the world’s information, it also started to dictate the rules through the PageRank algorithm, which forced companies to design their websites in a certain way to be indexed at the top of Google’s search results. But its one-size-fits-all structure ultimately makes it flawed for e-commerce.

Now, almost every website looks the same — and performs poorly. Offline, brands try to make their store experiences unique to differentiate themselves. Online, every website — from Gucci to the Gap — offers the same experience: a top nav, descriptive text, some pictures and a handful of other elements arranged similarly. Google’s rules have sucked the life out of unique online experiences. Of course, as e-commerce has suffered, Google has become more powerful, and it continues to disintermediate the consumer from the brand by imposing a terrible e-commerce experience.

Meanwhile, about 15 percent of the questions flung at me on Quora boil down to “How can I get the highest possible ranking on Google?” I haven’t the heart to tell them “Build a really shitty site.” Yet.

LoCascio sees 404s in our future:

I am going to make a bold prediction based on my work with 18,000 companies and bringing conversational commerce to life: In 2018, we will see the first major brand shut down its website. The brand will shift how it connects with consumers — to conversations, with a combination of bots and humans, through a messaging front end like SMS or Facebook. We are already working with several large brands to make this a reality.

Facebook? Please.

When the first website ends, the dominoes will fall fast. This will have a positive impact on most companies in transforming how they conduct e-commerce and provide customer care. For Google, however, this will be devastating.

At least there’s some redeeming social value.

(Via Jeff Faria.)

6 comments

  1. McGehee »

    19 February 2018 · 10:26 pm

    More web for us, then.

  2. Dan T. »

    19 February 2018 · 10:27 pm

    Yeah! Dump all those websites and have customers communicate via rotary-dial landline phones like in the good old days, or maybe telegrams.

    This sounds like one of those clickbait articles with hyperbolic predictions of the imminent death of some major technology, which in the real world rarely happens unless it’s superceded by something better.

  3. fillyjonk »

    20 February 2018 · 5:57 am

    Considering how many of us are at the point of having to rely on e-commerce for more than the most absolute basics of life (I have to drive an hour’s round trip for the nearest actual bookstore), I kind of doubt this guy’s predictions. Maybe city/coastal folk who don’t have nothing but wal-marts in their town will shift away from e-commerce….but not us in “flyover country.”

    And for specialist type shops? Word of mouth is a thing for online – there are groups on Ravelry that discuss which yarnsellers are reliable, have easily used websites, etc. Good shops will continue to do business, crappy ones will have to either upgrade or die.

  4. Roger O Green »

    20 February 2018 · 11:30 am

    I shipped out mail order. People called on a “telephone” and ordered from our print “advertisement” or “catalog”. Google the terms if you don’t know them – I’m sure Dustbury does because he’s only months younger than I.

  5. Fred Z »

    21 February 2018 · 12:06 am

    Nope, not gonna happen. Amazon et al will die as e-commerce software becomes cookie cutter and cheap. Search engines will become stronger, cataloguing and finding a vast number of smaller individual etailers.

    Evidence? Anecdotal. I already buy electrical parts and supplies wholesale from platt.com. They have knowledge and prices amazon cannot match.

  6. Lynn »

    21 February 2018 · 8:52 am

    When I shop online I don’t want a “unique online experience”, I want to find what I’m looking for quickly and to check out without a huge hassle. It’s a GOOD THING that most e-commerce sites work in a similar way. The ones that try to be “unique” are the ones that will die because most customers don’t want to go to the trouble of figuring out how it all works.

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