eCommerce’s Outdated Catalog Architecture and Why It’s Time For A Change

Back when eCommerce started in the ‘90s, few people had any idea how massive and central it would become to our lives. When Amazon was simply a bookstore and email was a novelty, there was no way to predict that shopping online would turn into a multi-trillion-dollar sector, made even more crucial during Covid-19. 

But it has. Meanwhile, the architecture behind e-commerce is stuck in the 90s. When commerce sites were first designed, they were built to showcase product catalogs.  At the time, that made perfect sense: it was a way to create limitless virtual shelf space. Today, if you Google search “retail website architecture” you’ll find image after image of products and product categories, reflecting the fact that eCommerce sites remain wedded to the catalog concept.

Of course, there have been improvements in the online shopping experience—it’s faster, the images are better, and sometimes even the check-out is easier. And as more data and tracking tools became available, retailers built shopper profiles based on clicks through these digital catalogs.  Direct marketing, in turn, is also based on bringing the shopper to the virtual catalog.

In the interim, there’s been a parallel explosion of people living more and more of their lives online thanks to social media. Dearduck’s CEO Katy Aucoin notes that, “At the start of eCommerce, there was no knowledge that the internet would become social, a place where people are sharing and building relationships with their networks and with savvy brands.” And retailers have been paying the very steep price of remaining in an antiquated catalog mode: over the last decade a staggering amount of money has been spent on trying to innovate the digital discovery experience on sites, mobile apps and through direct marketing—without addressing the root cause of the problem. That’s because software solutions designed for retailers are built around the catalog concept. So retailers are still trying to answer the question of how to effectively engage with shoppers and lower bounce rates.

“Retailers are stuck in what I call the dimensionless data problem,” Aucoin says. “Almost all of the data retailers have access to pertains to products. In order to create a compelling, bespoke experience for the shopper, the site needs to be about much more than just the product—you have to look at the person shopping. But without changing the architecture, retailers will only be able to talk about products.”

That’s where Dearduck can help. Dearduck is leading a paradigm shift away from catalog thinking and towards interacting with the shopper as a holistic, 360-degree person whose purchases fit into their lifestyle, relationships, and preferences. In the 90s, products were king. Now, people should be at the center of how we think about and build our platforms.

“With the Dearduck plug-in,” Aucoin notes, “once the shopper grants permission, we enable every retailer to gain a consistent and multi-dimensional view of that person—not just their clicks. Then the shopper can engage with the site in a completely customized way: navigating, searching, and receiving direct marketing messages that pertain to their life, including friends, events, and interests.”

Dearduck’s plug-in empowers retailers to connect with and retain their shoppers in an authentic way: The design is built to engage with shoppers as people, not as data generated by product purchases from a catalog.

As eCommerce approaches its third decade, powerfully innovative tools for retailers are long overdue. The Dearduck model offers a way to break free from outdated catalog thinking, and in the process creates a shopping experience that is not only far more successful for retailers, but also considerably more enjoyable for shoppers.

Want to learn more? We’d love to chat!