Monday, February 19, 2018

The sudden death of the website | TechCrunch

The sudden death of the website | TechCrunch



You may not know me or even my company,
LivePerson, but you’ve certainly used my invention. In 1995, I came up
with the technology for those chat windows that pop up on websites.
Today, more than 18,000 companies around the world, including big-name
brands like T-Mobile, American Express, Citibank and Nike, use our
software to communicate with their millions of customers. Unlike most
startup founders who saw the birth of the internet in the mid-1990s, I
am still CEO of my company.
My longevity in this position gives me a unique perspective on the
changes that have happened over the past two decades, and I see one
happening right now that will radically transform the internet as we
know it.

When we started building websites in the mid-’90s, we had great
dreams for e-commerce. We fundamentally thought all brick-and-mortar
stores would disappear and everything dot-com would dominate. But
e-commerce has failed us miserably. Today, less than 15 percent of
commerce occurs through a website or app, and only a handful of brands
(think: Amazon, eBay and Netflix) have found success with e-commerce at
any real scale. There are two giant structural issues that make websites
not work: HTML and Google.

The web was intended to bring humanity’s vast trove of content,
previously cataloged in our libraries, to mass audiences through a
digital user experience — i.e. the website. In the early years, we were
speaking in library terms about “browsing” and “indexing,” and in many
ways the core technology of a website, called HTML (Hypertext Markup
Language), was designed to display static content — much like library
books.

But retail stores aren’t libraries, and the library format can’t be
applied to online stores either. Consumers need a way to dynamically
answer the questions that enable them to make purchases. In the current
model, we’re forced to find and read a series of static pages to get
answers — when we tend to buy more if we can build trust over a series
of questions and answers instead.
The second problem with the web is Google. When we started to build
websites in the ’90s, everyone was trying to design their virtual stores
differently. On one hand, this made them interesting and unique; on the
other, the lack of industry standards made them hard to navigate — and
really hard to “index” into a universal card catalog.

Then Google stepped in around 1998. As Google made it easier to find
the world’s information, it also started to dictate the rules through
the PageRank algorithm, which forced companies to design their websites
in a certain way to be indexed at the top of Google’s search results.
But its one-size-fits-all structure ultimately makes it flawed for
e-commerce.

Now, almost every website looks the same — and performs poorly.
Offline, brands try to make their store experiences unique to
differentiate themselves. Online, every website — from Gucci to the Gap —
offers the same experience: a top nav, descriptive text, some pictures
and a handful of other elements arranged similarly. Google’s rules have
sucked the life out of unique online experiences. Of course, as
e-commerce has suffered, Google has become more powerful, and it
continues to disintermediate the consumer from the brand by imposing a
terrible e-commerce experience.
I am going to make a bold prediction: In 2018, we will see the first major brand shut down its website.

There also is a hidden knock-on effect of bad website design. As much
as 90 percent of calls placed to a company’s contact center originate
from its website. The journey looks like this: Consumers visit a website
to get answers, become confused and have to call. This has become an
epidemic, as contact centers field 268 billion calls per year at a cost
of $1.6 trillion.

To put that in perspective, global advertising spend is $500 billion,
meaning the cost of customer care — these billions of phone calls — is
three times more than a company’s marketing expenses. More importantly,
they create another bad consumer experience. How many times have we been
put on hold by a company when it can’t handle the volume of incoming
queries? Websites and apps have, in fact, created more phone calls — at
increased cost — and upended digital’s promise to make our lives easier.

There is something innate to our psychology in getting our questions
answered through a conversation that instills the confidence in us to
spend money. This is why there is so much chatter about bots and AI
right now. They tap into an inner understanding about the way things get
done in the real world: through conversations. The media are putting
too much focus on bots and AI destroying jobs. Instead, we should
explore how they will make our lives easier in the wake of the web’s
massive shortfalls.

As I have discovered the truth about e-commerce, in some ways it made
me feel a sense of failure from what my hopes and dreams were when I
started in the industry. I have a lot of hope now that what I call
“conversational commerce” — interactions via messaging, voice (Alexa and
so on) and bots — will finally deliver on the promise of powering
digital commerce at the scale we all dreamt about.
I am going to make a bold prediction based on my work with 18,000
companies and bringing conversational commerce to life: In 2018, we will
see the first major brand shut down its website. The brand will shift
how it connects with consumers — to conversations, with a combination of
bots and humans, through a messaging front end like SMS or Facebook. We
are already working with several large brands to make this a reality.

When the first website ends, the dominoes will fall fast. This will
have a positive impact on most companies in transforming how they
conduct e-commerce and provide customer care. For Google, however, this
will be devastating.

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