From Catalogs to Ecommerce to Omnichannel, So Much Has Changed in My 10 Years With Multichannel Merchant

Happy_10_Year_Work_Anniversary_07110 years ago today, I was late for work, my first day as a Senior Writer for Multichannel Merchant.

There was probably a light dusting of snow on the road. And I figured, based on my prior 6 years with the parent company, we’d have a delayed opening.

The delayed opening didn’t happen. And while being late for work has been a constant, so much has changed since January 2, 2006.

Catalog Age had been re-branded as Multichannel Merchant just a few months earlier. When attended my first NEMOA conference (known as perhaps being the most-friendly networking conference in the world), I was greeted with a handshake by a man with a heavy New England accent who said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m not happy that you changed your name to Multichannel Merchant, but it’s nice to meet you.”

A few years later, the same man approached me at NEMOA and said, “Well, you were right!”

And while I explained back in 2006 that I had nothing to do with the name change, and that I’d come on board a few months later but understood why there was some backlash, I took full credit for it that night.

From a heavy direct-to-customer reliance on catalogs, to the second-coming of ecommerce (I arrived right after the dot-com-boom) to multichannel to the “Year of Mobile Commerce” (because every year it seems we proclaimed the upcoming year to be the “Year of Mobile Commerce”), to our current state of omnichannel, so much has changed in my 10 years with Multichannel Merchant.

The funny thing is, there’s been so much change in technology, ideology, attribution, and execution since January 2006, that every day in the office for our editorial team seems to be “Story Time With Uncle Tim.”

Like, for example, there was a time when catalogs ruled the direct-to-customer world. Big books here, big books there, big books everywhere. And then catalogs seemed to disappear… and then make a comeback. Catalogs went from being the order channel to being a marketing tool designed to drive ecommerce traffic.

It also meant I got to see the rise and fall of Vinod Gupta, who at one time was the most powerful man in the direct-to-customer world. Catalogers, as these catalog-driven merchants were called then, needed lists, and Vin Gupta was buying out all the list brokers.

And the list brokers? Those who weren’t swallowed up by InfoUSA (which later became Infogroup) cringed when someone used a certain four-letter word: Co-op. Mailers put names in, and took names out, at it came at a lower cost that renting a list. But there was a catch to the co-ops: You could put names in, but you couldn’t necessarily take the names out that you wanted. If your competitor wanted to block you from receiving their customer’s names, they could. But by 2009, the 5 major co-ops represented about 60% of all catalog prospecting circulation.

Then there was the time when retailers all took to Facebook to sell everything the could under the sun, as often as they could. And many retailers got a black eye from their social media efforts because, in fact, they were acting pretty anti-social. Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru put it best when she compared the incarnation of “Facebook commerce” to walking into a bar and trying to sell things to all your friends. They’re at the bar to have a good time, not to buy jewelry and apparel.

Fortunately, personalization – whether you love it or hate it – has made social commerce simpler for merchants… And so has the “buy buttons,” which we can re-examine on my 15th anniversary.

And another from the “when I was your age” department: Remember how QR codes were going to bring new life to catalogs, and make mobile commerce a reality? Yeah, just because something was huge in Japan didn’t mean it would be successful in the U.S.

Even if an end-user was able to find a QR code reader on his or her smartphone, the user experience was terrible because the landing page was not optimized for the small screen. And even if the end-user could actually place an order, the checkout page would usually be a nightmare.

As for 3D printing, and being able to order a pair of jeans online and printing them out in your home… yeah, still not happening…

This is just a sampling of how things have changed since January 2, 2006. And the omnichannel world will keep on spinning, even if the word “omnichannel” becomes obsolete. We’ll see continued growth of cross-border ecommerce, and even faster delivery (even if delivery by drones doesn’t take off).

So here’s to 2016, and hopefully I’ll write another post like this on January 2, 2026… from my flying car.

Tim Parry is Managing Editor of Multichannel Merchant.

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