Thomas Gottheil, opinion leader in the German e-commerce scene and founder of Frontastic, talks to us in an interview about his exciting vision of tomorrow's shopping. We look at the development of retail to this day, discuss current challenges such as customer access or lean management and develop innovative ideas for a successful commerce strategy of the future.
Hello Thomas, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about the exciting topic of shopping of the future. First of all, we are interested in your professional background. Please introduce yourself.
I'd love to. I am Thomas, 39 years old and founder of Frontastic. I've been in e-commerce since 1999 and set up my first online shop together with Stefan Hamann, the founder of Shopware. 2005 I founded Shopmacher. At that time, we built up and expanded the e-commerce business for brands, for example for several years for Zippo lighters and Schiesser underwear.
Thomas Gottheil is very well known and well connected in the German e-commerce scene. He is also a frequent speaker at conferences.
Shopmacher then developed into a system integrator and is now successfully established on the market with around 80 employees. Since the beginning of the year, however, I have been fully concentrating on our new start-up Frontastic.
How do you think the requirements of online shops have changed in the last 10 to 15 years?
10 to 15 years ago Commerce was still completely at the beginning. At that time, you had a classic web shop – that’s all. So, there was no omnichannel, no mobile-first strategies and no dominant Amazon. At that time, it was relatively easy to gain market share with a low degree of professionalization, but a great deal of creativity and pragmatism.
What challenges do retailers face today in times of Omnichannel Commerce?
If a retailer offers comparable product ranges, this is a bad thing - given the transparency of the Internet - he has to get out of this. Ultimately, everything revolves around customer access: How can the dealer ensure that the customer keeps coming back? And due to the increasing degree of professionalization and market dynamics, it is also massively about managing and reducing complexity.
Retailers face complex and ever-changing challenges. Agile actions make it easier to overcome them.
How can retailers overcome these challenges?
First and foremost, retailers must be close to their customers as well as understand their wishes and insights. Then they should promote solutions within a preferably agile organizatio, using the motto "test, learn, expand". They should also standardize processes and create efficient technical solutions, but in such a way that work can be done creatively and effectively on the interface to the customer. I don't want to have to start a 100-person days project for every new idea...
What can online shop operators do to stand out from the competition?
Be more relevant!
Shop operators should put politics and a "we've always done that" attitude in the background and only have the customer in mind. All IT systems and processes should be designed in a way, that the technology is transformed from a blocker to an accelerator.
Let me give you a few concrete examples: Give the customer the items he is looking for - today 50% of all searches in the online shops are a nightmare. Dare to drive "mobile only" concepts: If 60 to 70% of visitors come to the frontend via a smartphone - why are there still responsive design compromises? And give your appearances love and personality in all aspects: From the homepage, over personal texts in the automatic e-mail up to a small surprise in the delivered package.
I believe companies need to develop their "unique front-end proposition" alongside the USP. This is the clear mix of their business model, the meaningful features, a perfectly fitting customer experience and an appealing visual design.
The Unique Frontend Propositon (UFP) by Thomas Gottheil. Retailers should think about a mix of business model, meaningful features, a great experience and appealing visual design.
In your view, in what direction will e-commerce develop in the next few years?
From a business perspective, I see various developments coming: Comparable standard products will be purchased even more frequently via the large platforms, i.e. Otto & Co. At the same time, however, this also gives retailers and brands room for new concepts and services: they can score with exclusive products, services, content and the linking of online and offline. I am also sure that voice commerce will still come as soon as the "UX code" has been cracked. It has to work in a meaningful way and with fun.
A new sales channel that is expected to become more relevant for more and more consumers in the future: Voice commerce.
From a technical point of view, there will also be some interesting developments. Everything becomes a service and moves towards the API. Processes, data and frontends are completely decoupled from each other, no matter if web shop, mobile frontend, voice,... Everything is moving to the cloud. From my point of view, this is also the only way that companies can keep up with the high dynamics to some extent.
How do retailers have to position themselves for the future in order to be competitive?
A retailer will be competitive if he has good customer access, is efficient in technology and processes as well as thinks and acts agile - from management to every single employee. Only those who keep questioning themselves and are two to three steps ahead of their competitors will have a justification in the commerce of the future.
Frontastic® is the cloud platform that enables e-commerce teams to implement their ideas in a simple and agile way. IT teams receive a development environment that enables them to create stable, value-added solutions and deliver them in a scalable manner. Frontastic® is the first "Frontend-as-a-Service".
About Thomas Gottheil
Thomas Gottheil is co-founder of FRONTASTIC GmbH and has been involved in digital commerce for over 15 years. Before that he was managing director of the e-commerce agency Shopmacher for over 10 years.