Culture / Design / Ecommerce / Internet / Retail

We’ve entered a new age of ecommerce

People are sick and tired of all these options.

We’d like to posit that the first great move of ecommerce was to make everything in the world accessible and for sale with just a few clicks. This could be called the Amazon Age, and we may be in its end stages.

During the Amazon Age you could buy the entire world at a significant discount from what was available at brick-and-mortar stores. Online retailers engaged in brutal competition to be at the top of the page when the consumers ranked the results from lowest to highest price.

But we’re entering a new age now.

It’s one where online retailers sell one or just a few products they have expertise in.

A Casper ad on the subway. (Photo by Flickr user happyskrappy, used under a Creative Commons license)

Casper on the subway. (Photo by Flickr user happyskrappy)

Their products aren’t listed on Amazon, you have to make the decision to go to their site to buy their products. They compete on price by eliminating middlemen — manufacturing and marketing their products on their own. The experience for the consumer is easy, the site is clean, and the shipping is included. Let’s call it the Warby Parker Age.

It took me three weeks to buy a coffee maker. What an absurd sentence! But this is a problem of life in the Amazon Age. There are simply too many choices, too many specs and too many options.

Amazon has 201 pages of coffee makers, each of which have different features and wildly different prices and all approximately the same rating (~4 stars). And so I researched. How many cups do I need, 12? No, way too many. Why does this one that’s $84.99 look so identical to one that’s $24.99? Is Cuisinart a good brand for coffee makers? Are the higher priced ones really any better? After all, the machine just pours hot water over ground coffee. But will there be subtle difference? Will the cheap ones be hard to clean or have a plastic part that breaks or some other problem I can’t even conceive of until it happens?

What we lost in the Amazon Age was sales people, experts who would explain to you in person at the store the products, their features and their price points. The sales person might ask questions about what you wanted to do with the product and make suggestions. Biased as they may be, when these sales people were competed away, we had to figure out all that stuff for ourselves.

Last month we interviewed an entrepreneur who would be a prime example of the Warby Parker Age. Josh Moses’ company, Misen, sells only one knife, and it’s a very good one. They manufacture the knife themselves, and so it costs a lot less than one of similar quality at a knife store. Perhaps most importantly, there is a level of trust in the fact that the company only makes one product. They must care about knives, why else would they make it their whole business. For any company — Casper with mattresses, Warby Parker with glasses, Brooklinen with sheets, if they only make one thing, there’s a high chance they care about its quality. Or so we feel.

Warby Parker keeps it simple. (Photo by Flickr user Alexis Lamster)

Warby Parker keeps it simple. (Photo by Flickr user Alexis Lamster)

“I honestly think people have decision fatigue,” Moses said in our interview with him at the time. The idea for his company came out of a bad experience with the Amazon Age. He himself debated for weeks before pulling the trigger when he was shopping for a knife for himself. “You’re trying to look through all the features and price points and it makes you nervous about the quality,” he said.

The early returns for companies of the Warby Parker Age are strong. Warby itself is now valued at over $1 billion (and is planning on opening brick-and-mortar stores, with real-life sales people). Casper announced in June a $55 million Series B roundBrooklinen did $1 million in sales in its first year of operation last year. And as for Misen, when we last talked Moses he was deciding whether to ask for $25,000 or $30,000 for his Kickstarter campaign. As of today, more than 7,000 people have supported him with knife purchases — for a total of $565,221.

He might be on to something.

Series: Brooklyn

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