Book to the Future for E-Commerce

A long, long time ago, before Amazon.com modified its “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore” slogan to encompass all the other merchandise on its virtual shelves, e-commerce took its first baby steps by selling books to the worlds hungry readers.

Now, almost exactly seven years later, the latest and hottest news about e-commerce is all about — books. Has e-commerce returned to its roots? Or are we still waiting in vain for those roots to sprout a full-fledged tree?

Book Wars, Episode I

Apparently spurred by the bump in traffic and sales it saw after it began offering free shipping, Buy.com decided to hit Amazon again. This time it went right for the gut, aiming at the very center of Amazons being — the bookstore — by slashing prices.

Not only is the book market where Amazon started, it’s where the company’s assets — the things that make it more than an e-tailer — are on full display.

It is in the book aisle that Amazon’s editorial content shines brightest. Condensed book reviews are presented, as are reviews from fellow readers. A best-seller listed is updated every hour, and newer features allow users to “open” a book and read the first couple of pages. And there’s a personalization offering that uses a shopper’s earlier purchases to figure out what he or she might like to buy next.

All of those things set Amazon apart from competitors. Soon, though, they could be all for naught.

Price To Pay

What, after all, is to prevent me from doing my virtual browsing at Amazon, then buying elsewhere? If all I want is a single $20 book, I can get it for two bucks less at Buy.com, and I won’t have to buy another $29 worth of items just to get free shipping.

Nothing will prevent that, really. Loyalty? It has a price. But the smart money right now isn’t on Buy.com pulling off a giant-killing. It might poke the giant in the gut a few times and maybe even knock him for a loop, but victory seems unlikely.

Still, the fact that the battle is being waged on the book front underscores the importance of that category to e-commerce. It’s a playing-field equalizer. Unless, of course, you’re selling books in Canada.

Book Wars, Episode II

Which is exactly what Amazon is doing as of earlier this week. But the launch of the Amazon Canada site is not without controversy. Apparently, Canadian law mandates that Canadian booksellers must be at least majority-owned by Canadians.

Amazon’s launch is being mulled over by Heritage Canada to determine whether it should be regulated by the Investment Canada Act. Amazon is arguing that it is exempt from the provisions of the Act. Moreover, the e-tailer has noted that it has a Canadian distributor and sells books from Canadian publishers.

But the case is far from closed. And Amazon’s latest major international launch — this whole Heritage Canada thing is apparently the reason why Canada had to wait while Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and others got their own Amazon sites — is being tainted because of, that’s right, books.

E-Commerce in a Rut?

So, does all this mean e-commerce is stuck in a rut? That it will never truly be more than a high-tech way to sell John Grisham novels?

Probably not.

But it’s interesting to note that after so many failed attempts to sell furniture, dog food and groceries online, the very first thing to be bought and sold online in mass quantities is still enough to cause quite a stir.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

1 Comment

  • I think the article misses the point as to what is going on in the Internet arena. We should focus on the point of competition rather than what is being sold.
    Internet companies such as Amazon and Buy.com are competing on price and not differentiation. As a result profit margins in the industry as a whole will fall. Will buy.com gain one over Amazon? The answer is that by competing on price both will lose out and may pay the ultimate price.
    By being bigger and more diversified Amazon might outlive buy.com in the long run. But Internet companies must learn to compete on things other than price if any of them are to survive at all.

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