Colombia & New York Connect To Chat about the Future of Commerce

Commerce has come a long way from the early days of digital shopping, and future innovations connecting companies to their customers could make it even easier for startups to compete—especially on the international stage.

In the past, consumers were just getting comfortable with ordering books or making travel plans on the Web. Now, they can make purchases on mobile devices, from anywhere and at anytime. This ongoing evolution of e-commerce will mean more opportunities for startups to do business across borders, according to a group of panelists at the IT & Software Business Matchmaking Forum, hosted in New York by ProExport Colombia, with some help from VentureOutNY.

ProExport Colombia is tied to Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism and encourages trade and foreign investment in the country. I moderated last week’s discussion, which featured Mariya Nurislamova, CEO and founder of ScentBird; Gillian Morris, CEO and founder of Hitlist; and David Teten, partner with ff Venture Capital.

Everyone knows commerce on the Web and mobile makes it easier to connect with customers around the world. The challenge, however, is finding the most effective channels to reach them. For example, jumping on every major social network to push a brand can be counterproductive, said Nurislamova, whose New York-based company recommends and ships perfume samples to customers to try before purchasing full-size bottles. “I think we’re all a little tired of the chatter,” she added.

Instead, she suggests that more shrewd uses of social media, such as YouTube videos of folks trying on Warby Parker eyeglasses, can resonate more with consumers than blathering on about deals. Using the Web to show consumers how a product fits or looks before it is ordered electronically, she said, is an example of digital commerce breaking down buyers’ early reservations about ordering online.

That said, not every online order will be perfect. So companies such as Zappos, Nurislamova said, make it easy for their clients to try out products ordered electronically and, when appropriate, return them.

Interest is also growing in “emotional” commerce, she said, as companies try to understand customers’ tastes and then offer items that could match their mood. “How does a woman want to feel when she wears a specific product?” Nurislamova asked.

These and other strategic opportunities, she said, can help international startups compete in markets that incumbent companies have not yet dabbled in. For example, she said selling luxury items such as jewelry online is something not yet dominated by Amazon.

Creating homegrown hubs for startups might help them launch internationally, though she cautions that the process takes time. Nurislamova said her native Russia, for example, wants to create a community for entrepreneurs in Moscow that mimics the success of Silicon Valley—but that is a lofty expectation. “It’s a culture that you can’t build overnight, which is not to say other countries shouldn’t try,” she said. “But I don’t think that cloning Silicon Valley is a possibility.”

There is still some low-hanging fruit in digital commerce that startups can take advantage of, said Hitlist’s Morris. She said while e-commerce has shed a lot of the dead weight found in the traditional retail environment, there are still other opportunities for innovation. TripCommon, her New York-based startup, developed the Hitlist app, which lets users consult friends to decide where they want to go on vacation.

Morris said there is room for startups in mobile to differentiate themselves versus … Next Page »

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