When shopping sites become all things to all people, they risk losing their identity, and their customers.

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

When online shopping first became available, I was in heaven! To sit at home, have a glass of wine and buy the kids Christmas presents on Amazon was way better than trudging through the snow and crowds at Target. Finding that perfect handmade gift for my friends on Etsy was like going to one of the best boutique stores. eBay was the place to go to find that one-of-a-kind necklace—it was like going on a treasure hunt. Zappos had a bigger shoe selection than any store on earth.

 

As we all know, bricks-and-mortar retailers got spooked. Many went bankrupt. Some even went out of business (e.g. The Limited, Sports Authority, and most recently Toys-R-Us). But others got smart. Competition forced them to get better and more creative.

 

Best Buy beat “showrooming” by price matching and improving customer service. Restoration Hardware went BIG—big furniture, big high-end real estate and even big rooftop restaurants. Eddie Bauer recently launched the EB Ice Box, a meat-locker-like display that is cooled to 13 degrees. (Truth be told that still wouldn’t get me to Eddie Bauer but hey, it sure is creative!) The smart bricks-and-mortars are putting a stake in ground. They’re defining who they are and reinventing in-store experiences as a driving force for success.

 

Suddenly, the script is flipping. What is happening to those original shopping websites? They all seem to be moving towards an “all things to all people” strategy. For Amazon, that might make sense (it’s still where I spend the most money, and I dare say, I’m not the only one). But what about those shopping sites that used to have a strong brand? They’re becoming a pile of mush.

 

Etsy is no longer just handmade, handcrafted items. They carry vintage goods as well as new stuff you could find at TJ Maxx. Who are you now, Etsy? Ebay, too. Now it’s like going to one of those monster outdoor flea markets where the really great antiques are jumbled in with tons of new merch that you can find anywhere. That’s not what eBay is supposed to be. Zappos decided they needed to add clothes and other accessories. Why would I go to Zappos for clothes when they are a shoe place (doesn’t the name actually translate to shoes in Spanish)?

 

These online retailers risk losing their identity, and with it, their revenue. Etsy recently had massive layoffs and has yet to turn a profit. eBay is working on their business model and had a decent 4th quarter but can anyone come up with a good reason to shop there (I can’t). Zappos was bought by Amazon and represents a microscopic fraction of their $136 billion in sales. And of course, now you can buy clothes at Amazon, too. Talk about confusion.

 

If these shopping websites don’t start getting back to who they are and making it the fun experience it used to be, I may have to shop at Eddie Bauer. Please, don’t make me do that.