The online shopping experience, with its multitude of click-throughnavigation and billing forms, remains far from seamless.
Lots of companies — including Alphabet Inc., FacebookInc. and Pinterest, among others — are trying to streamline the processwith platform-based solutions. But consumers still tend to navigate to specifice-commerce sites for their buying needs, while retailers prefer to retain a connectionto their own branded platforms to protect relationships with those consumers, saidLinda Bustos, co-founder and managing partner of e-commerce advisory firm Edgacent.
Bringhub, a two-year-old startup, is attempting to narrow thatdivide in interests with a universal cart available in a format designed to appealto both consumers and retailers alike.
"The whole point was to make everything that is transactionalin content a purchasable opportunity for the consumer," co-founder and COOBrian Marvin said in an interview.
Bringhub's cart can follow a user around the Internet, providinga platform-agnostic receptacle for purchases. The company partners with advertisersand publishers to allow more buying opportunities. Interested in a new shirt mentionedon your favorite fashion blog? Click a native buy button and the shirt will appearin a digital cart that links to a retailer that sells it. Rather than clicking throughto a new site, the buyer scrolls to a cart sidebar accessible via a desktop or mobilebrowser. If that user has a Bringhub profile, their payment details can be preloadedand ready to go. The cart retains items placed there across devices and websites,and when it's time to check out, Bringhub pings the seller to make sure the productsare still available, with fulfillment and shipping handled by that retail partner,like Amazon.com Inc. orNordstrom Inc. for instance.
Durable goods manufacturers like Procter & Gamble alreadyhave their own websites full of product information for marketing purposes, butmany of those sites do not include direct purchase options. Bringhub's solutionattempts to bridge the gap, allowing those marketing sites to function more likestand-alone e-commerce platforms.
By streamlining the consumer online shopping experience and workingwith retailers instead of against them, Marvin hopes that Bringhub can be a disruptorthat changes e-commerce for good. However, some analysts briefed on Bringhub's solutionnoted potential roadblocks.
Gartner retail analyst Jennifer Polk expressed some skepticism,though she said that Bringhub's cart solution sounds better than some of the e-commerceservices available today. There are many solutions coming to market, but most offeronly incremental improvements, and to truly change the online shopping experiencethey must do more, she said.
"You can't just be better than the experience today. Youneed to be better than what the experience is going to be," Polk said in aninterview.
Edgacent's Bustos echoed that sentiment. "We don't liketo do things a different way just because it exists," she said. "It mustbe disruptive."
As they pointed out, among the potential problems with a universalcart like Bringhub's are fulfillment nuances, security concerns and attaining acritical mass of partners and users. It also will take time and incentives to winover retailers, most of which are hesitant to use third-party sites that interruptthe flow of marketing and information between the consumer and the brand, the analystssaid. Retailers begrudgingly work with Amazon for many of the same reasons theywork with Walmart — critical mass.
Bringhub's Marvin said that the company's cart is Payment CardIndustry compliant, meaning security risks are minimal. As for fulfillment issues,he said the fulfillment process should be no different with Bringhub than it iswith each of its retailer partners. The company has already worked to address andavoid many of these issues by offering its cart as an enhancement for retailersrather than a consumer demand-driven compromise, Marvin argued.
"It's giving them the dynamic flexibility to make theirinventory truly multichannel," he said.
Marvin said that as consumers continue to favor marketplace siteslike Amazon and increasingly shop across different devices, retailers already arebecoming more open to partnerships to compete online. Bringhub just attempts tomake that partnership easier. It helps to incentivize its cart usage by sharinganonymized consumer data with retail partners, information that many marketplacesites do not share. Bringhub's data, by contrast, offers a view of consumer spendinghabits across the web wherever its cart was utilized.
Further, by offering additional purchase suggestions like a "MoreLike This" feature and a "Discover" tab, Bringhub promotes impulsepurchases at the point of sale. If a retailer wants to drive more traffic to itsown site, it can overlay offers and promotions on the Bringhub cart to entice customersto click through. Because of such features, Marvin said Bringhub's partners arereporting higher conversion rates using its platform than other third-party solutions.
Bringhub is still building its list of retail, publishing andadvertising partners, but some big names are signing up. For instance, Bonnier Corp.'ssuite of websites like Field & Streamand Saveur use the cart, and it linksto major retailers like Amazon and Nordstrom Inc. Marvin said the company is alsotalking with Snapchat about adding Bringhub functionality for its advertising.
Bringhub has gone from servicing about a million products a yearago to almost 50 million today, Marvin said. While that is still plenty shy of Amazon,which carries almost 500million products, it is well beyond any bricks and mortar retailer, consideringthe average Wal-Mart supercenter carries about 120,000products.
As the analysts and Marvin himself admitted, it is difficultto change consumer behavior, but Bringhub is betting that if it can offer a materiallybetter value proposition to retailers, then consumers will follow.