The Rise of M-Commerce

M-commerce (M stands for mobile) is trending. Its biggest hurdle to date has been an uneven integration with online shopping carts, primarily because of three factors:

1. Small mobile-phone screen size

2. Speed

3. Payment security

Smartphone manufacturers have addressed the first issue by creating larger screens. Meanwhile, cellular connections continue to improve, with upcoming 5G wireless technology promising to speed things up even more. Social media sites have helped out by offering Buy buttons, which transport customers seamlessly from browsing-to-purchase and reduce the fear of sharing credit-card information via phone.

The results are startling. Money spent per mobile visit to online retailers has increased by 27% since 2015, almost as big of a jump as tablet and desktop sales combined, while the length of time spent during the purchasing process has declined by 10%, meaning that the mobile shopping experience is becoming more streamlined.

Meanwhile, overall mobile  visits have skyrocketed. Since 2015 there has been a 90% increase in smartphone visits to websites, while traffic from tablets and desktops has actually declined.

The growth in sales is phenomenal — m-commerce revenues are expected to increase from $30 billion in 2014 to $284 billion by 2020.

Physical distances are shrinking also. You can log into e-commerce websites from almost anywhere, purchase from a seller  who is located almost anywhere, and expect to have your purchase delivered in a matter of days.

Now that's service.

Our Top Ten E-Commerce Checklist

Here is a handy checklist of critical elements for e-commerce  success:


1) Get Good at Social Media

The social-media universe is virtually infinite, and so it’s a challenge to find the best way to use it. Dabbling in all available social-media platforms is fine, but we recommend picking one  and mastering it, with this objective -- creating an environment where customers can  exchange information, and where you can post announcements.


2) Minimize Shopping Cart Abandonment

Approximately 60-70% of online customers abandon their shopping carts before making a purchase. The main cause is often additional fees that get tacked on at the end of the sale, such as shipping charges. Try to announce ancillary fees at the beginning of the process so customers aren’t surprised at the end. Another important strategy is to send a follow-up email to customers if they abandon their shopping cart. There are many automated email programs that can do this for you.


3) Up-Sell and Cross-Sell

Let’s say a customer is ready to buy one of your products. This is the perfect time to sell them something else, either additional items that enhance the usefulness of your product (such as shaving cream specifically formulated to work best with a particular razor), or combining items to allow the customer to achieve a volume discount. Another strategy is to offer an inexpensive entry-level sale.  A good example of this was employed by Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, who sold ice-cream at cost in front of his first brick-and-mortar store, attracting customers with the low price and then ushering them in to make more purchases.


4) Leverage a 3PL

If you start small, you might want to try fulfilling and shipping your product yourself, but third-party logistics companies (3PLs) can usually handle this function better and cheaper than you, once volume and order-complexity levels have been reached. 


5) Offer Free Shipping

Everybody likes free shipping, and you need to offer it, though you probably aren’t in a position to emulate Amazon and lose $20 billion dollars a year on it. Instead do the next best thing and offer free shipping at a minimum purchase-price point, encouraging customers to buy more.


6) Get Your Mobile Capabilities Up to Speed

Sixty-two percent of smartphone owners made a purchase via mobile in the past six months. Mobile usage is growing faster than any other communications segment. Your mobile site should be user-friendly, with an easy-to-navigate shopping-cart function.


7) Outsource, Outsource, Outsource

Good leaders keep their eyes on the big picture, which means staying out of the weeds. Entrepreneurs and small-business owners often feel the need to do everything themselves, and while it’s good to understand the details of your operation, trying to do everything  is ultimately a loser. Pick an area where you feel most skilled (sales and marketing are good) and outsource as much of the rest as possible.


8) Create Original Content

Recipes, blogs, newsletters - there are many ways to keep a flow of information going to your customers and prospects. Tilt your content toward  information more than sales. People like content that teaches them something.


9) Get Customer Feedback

Your customers are your best critics, and their feedback is a gold mine of information. Many e-commerce platforms have plugins that allow you to collect and display customer reviews. If that isn’t available, there are other apps that allow you to integrate customer testimonials into your product page.


10) Connect With Affiliates

Affiliates are associates (such as bloggers) who refer customers to your website and then collect a commission on the sales. This serves as free marketing for you. There are reputable networks that make it easy for affiliates to integrate with you. Be generous with your commissions because this is one of the more efficient marketing tools available.


Are Voice Assistants Going To Be Your New Best Friend?

This holiday season  Amazon and Google  pushed hard to market their respective virtual voice assistants -- Amazon Echo and Google Home -- which soon may come to dominate  household activity. 

Voice technology has an advantage over other tech innovations because it's easy to use. Simply speak into a device and voice-translation technology seamlessly obeys your command. Customers don't need to master new interfaces. They simply do what they've done their entire lives -- talk.

Voice assistants are embedded into almost every new household appliance  these days as tech companies race to gain a monopoly on the internet-of-things.  In the near future, consumers may be motivated to buy compatible household appliances that are supported by one technology company  so that everything operates on the same system. 

Amazon is even thinking about putting ads into their devices, which means a voice assistant, in addition to taking orders, might also make recommendations, sort of like the guy on the loudspeaker at the grocery store who continuously announces the daily specials.

A potentially creepy factor might also come into play. Digital assistants (Amazon Echo, Siri, the lady in your GPS) already speak to you in soothing tones. What happens when she (and it's always a she) adds Artificial Intelligence (another day-to-day  technology looming on the horizon) to her arsenal? Will she become an ideal companion who changes and adapts to your personality, offering lifestyle advice along with recommending new things to buy?  Will she then become your new best friend?




Are You Ready for Delivery Robots?

The immediate-gratification society is about to get even more immediate when robotic, self-driving vehicles begin traveling the streets 24/7 delivering the stuff we've ordered. The latest entry  is Nuro, a startup that has secured $92 million in financing to build small, driver-less delivery trucks.

Nuro is looking to help solve the Last Mile problem by  delivering cargo and packages into small areas such as city streets.  It is relatively easy to transport cargo over long distances but far more difficult (and expensive) to cover the final leg, the Last Mile.

Nuro believes that self-driving delivery vehicles will be easier to manage than passenger cars. For one, they are only half the size of a sedan and are built specifically for local roads, unlike regular cars that also have to travel on highways. Speed is not a priority with a local-delivery vehicle.

Because it's cheaper to operate, Nuro vehicles might also be able to provide services to local merchants, who normally can't offer local delivery.

Nuro is following on the heels of Aurora Innovations, which has recently partnered with Volkwagen and Hyundia to commercialize self-driving technology. Dozens of other tech  companies are jumping into the market that some people believe will mark as radical a shift in transportation as when the internal combustion engine replaced horses.  

Other car companies are  getting into the act. Ford is  testing a pilot program with Domino's to deliver pizzas in Michigan, and Toyota recently unveiled a concept vehicle called e-Palette that will supply self-driving vehicles to Uber, Amazon and other companies. 

Many experts believe that these self-driving delivery vehicles will achieve success far sooner than self-driving passengers vehicles.




Return to Sender - Ecommerce Division

After the record-setting e-commerce holidays of 2017, retailers are now  managing the inevitable flood of returns, and customer satisfaction depends on it. According to research by, 63% of shoppers say they will not buy again from a retailer who gives them a negative returns experience. 

Returns policies affect even first-time buyers, with 51% responding that they tend to avoid shopping with retailers who have strict returns  policies.

Here is is what shoppers want -- a full refund for a returned purchase with no questions asked.



Optimizing E-Commerce Conversions

The customer journey through the e-commerce shopping experience mirrors a brick-and-mortar visit, except that each step is digital instead of physical.

People enter your site and browse, just like do in a physical store. And just like in a physical store, products in the digital store should be as appealingly displayed as possible.

Sales associates help facilitate sales in physical stores. For e-commerce sites, the product page is the sales associate, and therefore the product page must be equipped with all of the necessary information to help the customer make a decision to buy your product.

The final step in the journey is the transaction, which at a physical store happens at the cash register. This is where e-commerce sites encounter their biggest problem. Very few customers walk away from brick-and-mortar transactions once they reach the cash-register line, but almost 70% of e-commerce traffic drops out during the shopping-cart process.

Why? The major culprit is shipping, with options and costs often not revealed until the very end. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to advertise shipping costs at the beginning, if they are fixed (free helps).  If other shipping options are there to choose from, provide clearly-defined delivery dates and costs as early in the process as possible.

Shipping Expectations in the Age of Amazon

Jeff Bezos, with a relentless focus on innovation, efficiency, and quality, drives the e-commerce world, and everyone else who wants to succeed needs to learn how to flourish in the ecosystem he has largely created.

Shipping is one area where Amazon's gravitational pull  defines the landscape. An expectation with consumers has been created of cheap (if not free) shipping and speedy delivery, though surveys show that most customers prefer low cost over speed. 

Most e-commerce companies can't afford to give away the shipping. They need a certain level of purchase before they can offer it, but whatever your free-shipping rules, make sure they are prominently displayed on your website. One of the biggest causes of shopping-cart abandonment is  customers not finding out about  delivery options until the checkout phase. So advertise your options early in the process, and if there is a free-shipping one, make a big deal out of it.

Does everybody  have to match Amazon's free two-day shipping policy (though it's not really free)? The answer is, sometimes, but not always. It depends on the product. Niche products have more shipping leeway because they are perceived to be special, while everyday household products are held to a different standard   because a behemoth like Amazon can easily stock and sell them.

So what is the best strategy for competing with Amazon?

You have a choice -- set up your own operation or find a third-party provider. People who want to spend most of their day managing fulfillment might choose the first option, but keep in mind the expense involved -- a multi-year warehouse lease, equipment purchase, systems development. Figure a million-dollar investment to get up and running, plus ongoing overhead costs (rent, employees, benefits, etc.). And a startup is unlikely to receive favorable shipping discounts from the major carriers until volume is reached.

Third-party providers get you there faster, both because the above-mentioned overhead is already in place and they have existing contracts with the shipping carriers that  provide lower shipping costs.

The key factor with a third-party provider is reliability. Since this provider will house  your inventory,  it must be  rock-solid. Referrals are important here.

To summarize, you can compete with Amazon, especially if you are offering a niche product that can't be reduced to a commodity (like laundry detergent), either by setting up your own fulfillment operation (if you are an operations-oriented person with the the funds to invest) or by leveraging the experience and contracts of a reliable third-party provider who gives you quick turnaround and  less- expensive shipping options.





















The Retailer of the Year Was Your Smartphone

2017 was the tipping-point year for smartphone shopping.  Almost half of online Black Friday purchases came from smartphones, and increase of more than 15% from last year. Traffic from desktops decreased, making smartphone purchasing the most popular method of ordering online.

The trend continued during Cyber Monday, when 45% of site visits and almost 20% of revenue came from smartphones. This represented a 21% year-over-year increase in site visits and a whopping 41% increase in revenue. And here's another statistic - conversion rates from shoppers buying instead of just browsing increased by 12%, meaning that more people are getting used to converting the purchase on their smartphone.

Why the increase? Because more people own smartphones and have them available at all times. Also, the e-commerce apps have improved. Retailers continue to invest in the mobile shopping experience, streamlining processes, reducing steps, and improving security.

2018 should be an even bigger year for smartphone e-commerce.


Improving Inventory Management


Inventory management plays an important role — too much inventory creates unsold inventory costs, too little inventory leads to customer dissatisfaction. Here are some important metrics for maintaining manageable inventory levels.  

  1. Inventory Turnover Rate - This measures how many times inventory has been sold and       replaced in a given period of time, either as Cost of Goods Sold divided by Average       Inventory or Sales divided by Inventory
  2. Average Days to Sell Inventory - This measures how long it takes to turn inventory into sales. (Inventory divided by Cost of Sales times 365).

  3. Average On Hand Inventory - To calculate for a given month, add beginning inventory to ending inventory and divide by 2.

  4. Holding Costs - This measures the cost of unsold inventory. To arrive at this number, include damaged inventory along with storage, labor and insurance costs

  5. Out-of-Inventory Costs - This measures the cost of running out of inventory. The calculation is simply one of estimating lost sales due to lack of inventory.

  6.  Overstocking - In order not to run out of inventory, companies need to maintain stock. The question is how much. The metric here is to have the cost of  overstocked goods (including storage charges) be less than the cost of running out of inventory.

  7. Lead Time - Calculate the sum of the time it takes a supplier to deliver product once the order has been placed plus the time that transpires between the need to order again

  8. Returns - This is the percentage of orders that are returned and restocked.

  9. Accurate Order Rate - This metric measures the percentage of orders fulfilled correctly, meaning correct items and quantities with no complaints or follow ups from customers.




Alibaba Sold a Massive $25 Billion Worth of Merchandise in One Day

It's called Singles Day, when single people in China celebrate being single. Created by Chinese university students as sort of an anti-Valentine's day, sales on Singles Day tripled the volume of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. 

Alibaba reported that at one point shoppers spent $1 billion  in just 2 minutes.

November 11 is Singles day because the numerical date is represented as 11/11.

Alibaba has used the event to lure international companies onto its platforms. More than 40% of participating brands on Singles Day came from outside China. The massive shopping holiday is also spreading to other Asian countries.

Significantly, Alibaba is using the holiday to help leverage its significant investment in brick-and-mortar stores, promoting Singles Day in the stores as well as online.

The success of this online/offline partnership might presage looming battle between Amazon/Whole Foods and Walmart over grocery delivery.







Amazon Courts Indian Merchants

In the past two years, Amazon has signed  more than 27,000 Indian merchants to sell goods directly on its American site. The program is profitable in both directions. The merchants gain hassle-free access to the American market, avoiding export/import, marketing and distribution costs that go along with international commerce, and Amazon gains a huge influx of third-party sellers who manufacture quality products at a low cost.

Amazon handles everything for the Indian merchants, including  an e-commerce platform, advertising, storage and fulfillment. In return, Amazon takes approximately one-third of every transaction. Since production costs are low in India, this arrangement results in lower prices for U.S. consumers and profits for the merchants. 

Some merchants with contacts in the U.S. work with a hybrid business model, letting Amazon host their products but fulfilling through a U.S. domestic 3PL, resulting in lower costs for the merchant.


The 12-Minute Window


Marketing agency Tangent Snowball surveyed 1,000 customers and found the average time customers spend browsing a website before placing an order is 12 minutes.  Tangent commissioned the survey  to pinpoint key customer-engagement areas and to develop effective strategies for ushering customers out of the browsing phase and into purchasing.

Here are some of their insights:

Use Personalization to Attract

Data will be the differentiator going forward as marketers learn to decode the massive amount of information available to them. One case study is where Microsoft worked with a bank to determine who was in the market for car loans. Microsoft was able to determine how many searches served as  the tipping point for customers who were  really in the market for a new car rather than just browsing. 

Going after customers with personalized messages who have abandoned their shopping carts is another effective strategy, since more than a quarter of online shoppers prefer to leave a site  before coming back to buy.

There is a split between consumers who like to receive targeted ads based on their previous searches (26%) and those who believe it is an invasion of privacy (22%).  The key to avoiding the invasion-of-privacy trap is to give the customer good information without overdoing it. 

Personalized emails are also effective. Research showed that 42% responded positively when asked if a personalized email affected their decision. That is a  higher number than TV ads (36%) or online advertising (22%), which came in second and third as motivating factors.

Improve the User Experience

Ease of navigation is another important area. One-third of respondents said they bailed out if the  checkout process grew too complicated. Almost a quarter  of customers saw  value in online support.

One-click purchasing and Guest Checkout also improved the shopping experience.

Another sticking point is shipping costs. On many sites  customers only learn about shipping costs at checkout, which creates two problems - 1) customers will advance to the checkout phase just to find out the shipping cost and then leave (increasing the abandonment rate) or they will bail out at checkout because they weren't expecting the extra charge.

Next Steps

The new frontier of e-commerce is changing all the time, and online merchants need to keep abreast of  the latest developments. This requires ongoing education about e-commerce strategies. The industry continues to change at a rapid pace, and those who keep learning stand the best chance of prospering.




We're Using Less Packaging

Never before have so many products been sold (and shipped) to so many people, yet statistics show that  we are using less packaging per person than before.  According to  the EPA and the Census Bureau, from 2000-2014 the amount of discarded packaging in the U.S. increased by only 1.1%  while the  population grew by 13%. 

How has that happened?

Mostly through more efficient (and recyclable) packaging. Gone are items like clam- shell  packages that are both impossible to open and non-recyclable. Most plastic packaging today, in addition to being customer-friendly, is recyclable, even the ubiquitous plastic grocery sacks.

Then there are  outer shipping boxes. On the e-commerce side, dimensional charges by FedEx, UPS and the USPS add cost (the bigger the box, the more expensive the shipment, regardless of weight). Because of this, reducing shipment sizes has become a focus, both with the interior package and the outer  shipping box. Plus, inside protective filler these days tends to be composed of recycled materials. 

There has been a lot of progress in reducing waste, though we still have  a long way to go in achieving the the ultimate objective -- sustainability.



Free Shipping Strategies

It's not that everybody wants free shipping,it's that they  expect it.

So how do you solve the free-shipping issue when a company like Amazon is willing to lose $12 billion a year on shipping, delivering goods for free through deficit spending.

Here are a few strategies:


Minimum Order Amount

Set a purchase threshold before free shipping kicks in, which involves careful analysis of cost-of-goods and profit.  What is your typical per-order amount, and what is the profit on that? Setting a purchase threshold slightly higher than your typical order might cause customers to order more than usual in order to get the  free shipping. 


Targeted Free Shipping

Only offer free shipping on certain items (or certain categories), preferably  ones that cost you the least to ship (smaller and lighter).


Charge for Expedited Shipping Only

Depending on how you structure your shipping, you can give away the slow option (Ground, SmartPost, USPS, etc.) but charge for expedited (two-day or overnight). This will at least limit the damage.


Build  Shipping Costs Into the Product Price

This is the equivalent of charging $0.99 instead of $1.00, but it works. People love free shipping and will sometimes ignore companies that don't offer it. If you check out the prices for items that qualify for Amazon Prime vs. those that don't, you'll find there is often a jump in price for Amazon Prime orders. So Amazon isn't giving anything away, just creating the perception.


Offer a Subscription Program

If you have a product that requires regular replenishment, a subscription model can be a very cost-effective offer, allowing you to batch orders and send them all out at once. It is cheaper to assemble 250 orders on one day than 50 per day spread out over the work week. If you have enough volume, you might qualify for a remailer who offers  lower shipping costs, and if not, the resulting labor efficiency will at least cancel out some of your shipping costs.  


Perception is an important part of reality, and people always like to believe they are getting something for free, even if they got lured into making a bigger purchase than usual or paid for the shipping through a higher item price.

The E-Commerce Silver Lining

It is fashionable these days to complain about   online retail mowing down beloved brick-and-mortar fixtures,  causing massive layoffs and disrupting the economy.

But here's the silver lining. E-commerce transactions by definition require shipping and warehousing, and those businesses are booming.

And how about job creation? Virtually all e-commerce jobs exist beyond major urban centers (though near major highways) for the simple reason that land is cheaper there. Building an enormous warehouse off of exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike makes more sense than plunking one down in the middle of Brooklyn. The places hardest hit by manufacturing's decline are also the ones most attractive to e-commerce distributors.

According to the New York Times, warehouses have produced jobs at four times the rate as the rest of the economy since 2010.

And it's not just Amazon. All of the big players are erecting enormous warehouses in the hinterlands and staffing them with workers. 

And the pay is at least decent, certainly less than the old manufacturing jobs, but roughly equivalent to what can be earned in  brick-and-mortar retail.

It's not a perfect picture (it never is during transition periods), but as one area sinks, another rises up. It is the new industry's job to figure out how to make the whole thing work better for everybody.




The Last Mile Delivery Race Is On

Ten years ago, people thought two-day shipping was unbelievably fast. The new "unbelievably fast" standard is turning into same-day or even one-hour shipping.

There has been a 15% increase in e-commerce sales during the past year, and the delivery infrastructure is having a hard time keeping up.  The so-called Last Mile presents particular difficulties because of delays, repeat delivery attempts and "front porch" theft, which accounts for nearly 1% in lost revenue for retailers.

A titanic battle for dominance is taking place in this market, not only among established players but with numerous startups  attempting to get a foothold in this fertile territory.

Every discussion has to begin with Amazon. E-commerce accounted for 42% of retail growth last year, with Amazon - whose sales grew by over 30% - holding the majority of that increase.  The acquisition of Whole Foods gives Amazon a brick-and-mortar logistics hub that will greatly assist in Last Mile delivery. Combine that with the returns-policy arrangement it recently signed with Kohl's, and Amazon is well on its way to solving the two biggest e-commerce problems  dislike -  delivery time and returns.

Other retailers are responding.

Target's program Restock allows customers to choose from thousands of household items and have them delivered the next day for a $5 delivery charge.

Walmart is experimenting with large kiosks that allow customers to order online and then pick up at the nearest Walmart location, plus it has launched a program where Walmart employees can make deliveries on their way home from work. Walmart is also partnering with Uber for on-demand grocery deliveries.

Both Amazon and Walmart are experimenting with smart-lock programs that allow delivery personnel to  enter customers' houses to deliver packages.

Can startup delivery companies survive against these behemoths? Possibly, but success will probably depend on improved personalization and bundling with other services. 

The large retailers focus on more densely populated areas for obvious reasons, which makes for opportunity in the exurban and rural areas.

Either way, the bottom line will continue to be - whoever is faster and cheaper wins the race.






Same-Day Delivery Options

Same-day delivery has always been possible through specialized (and expensive) courier service, but now major established delivery as well as several startup companies are getting into the act.

FedEx just announced it has expanded same-day delivery service to 1,800 cities. The deliveries are made by FedEx drivers in FedEx trucks (in other words, they aren't outsourced to other carriers), and the service includes a mobile app for tracking. 

Deliv is an example of a startup company offering same-day e-commerce delivery. Deliv is present in 19 markets, and Walmart's purchase of Parcel gives it the ability to same-day deliver in New York City.

With the emphasis now on speed-of-delivery, expect these companies and more (including, of course, Amazon) to continue to improve their delivery systems, making them as fast and inexpensive as possible.




Three E-Commerce Platforms

Thee-commerce explosion has led to an equal profusion of shopping platforms. Here are three:

1. Shopify

Shopify hosts over 325,000 online stores with a focus on social commerce and mobile shopping.  It provides over 100 store templates and 1,500 plugins/extensions that improve functionality, such as integrating with other systems. 

For sites that want to sell through Facebook, Shopify will also connect your store directly to Facebook.

On the downside, if you don't use Shopify Payment, there is an additional transaction fee on every sale. This, in fact, is how Shopify makes its money, offering a low entry feebut generating revenue with every transaction. 

Bottom line, Shopify is probably the best and most cost-effective solution for startups.



2. BigCommerce

BigCommerce hosts over 55,000 online stores and caters to companies of all sizes. It is probably the best solution for people with little or no technical knowledge.  It includes many add-ons, such as newsletters, coupons, analytics, etc., but unlike Shopify, does not charge extra transaction fees.

Bottom line, BigCommerce is best for those without technical skill who do not want to deal with issues like integrating plugins, plus it costs less because of the lack of a transaction fee.


3. Magento

Because of its scalability, Magento is the market leader for bigger brands. With its open source platform, the site is customization-friendly (unlike Shopify and BigCommerce) and offers over 9,000 plugins/extensions to help scale your business.

Magento includes a free Community version, but the real action is with its Enterprise version, which costs a minimum of $20,000 per year. With Magento, you will need skilled developers because of all the customization features.

Bottom line, Magento is best for companies with large volumes of items. Not for beginners.



Amazon Testing Its Own Delivery Service

Amazon is experimenting with a new service called Seller Flex that will allow it to control shipments from third-party warehouses to home delivery. Currently, Amazon allows third-party merchants to ship however they choose, primarily through FedEx, UPS, or the USPS. Shipments may still travel via these carriers, but it will be under Amazon's direction and on Amazon's account.

The service began two years ago in India and has operated on a trial basis on the west coast this year. It is expected to be rolled out nationally some time in 2018.

Seller Flex offers several benefits to Amazon - greater flexibility and control, more income through improved volume discounts, and less congestion at its own facilities.

 Last year Amazon introduced Seller Fulfilled Prime, which let merchant fulfill under the Prime label as long as they committed to Prime's two-day delivery pledge. Under Seller Flex, merchants will still fulfill from their own warehouses, but Amazon will control the shipping.

This will reduce logjams at Amazon's own warehouses, where merchant ship goods for fulfillment by Amazon.

The bottom line is that Amazon continues toexpand its logistics operations, gaining control over the entire supply chain.




The History of Sears Is the Future of Amazon

In the last two years, Amazon has opened 11 physical bookstores while purchasing Whole Foods's 400 retail locations, and last week, it announced a partnership that will allow returns to be delivered to selected Kohl's physical locations. 

Why is Amazon doing this? If history rhymes, as one philosopher posited, then maybe the best thing to do isstudy the history of Sears, which startedas a mail-order business and evolved into retail. 

It started with mail. After the Civil War several innovations (such as railroads and parcel delivery) made it possible to deliver items directly to people.  Thus was born the catalog,which consumers could browse at leisure at home and then order what they wanted and have it delivered.

The greatest catalog of them all belonged to Sears. There were other catalogs, but none as big as Sears, which, like Amazon today, marketing itself as the place where you could purchase almost anything and have it delivered.

Between 1895 and 1905 Sears revenue grew from $750,000 to $38 million, a factor of 50. By comparison, Amazon has only grown tenfold in the last ten years.

Then Sears moved into brick-and-mortar retail, opening its first stores in existing mail-order warehouses, and then expanding from there, mostly to the suburbs where land was cheap. 

At the start of 1925, there were no Sears stores in the United States. By 1929, there were 300. Like Amazon, then Sears began expanding into adjacent businesses, such as car insurance under the Allstate brand.  The shift from selling products to selling services is analogous to the creation of Amazon Web Services.

Sears, like Amazon, fueled its growth through efficiency and low prices. 

So how does Sears's past predict Amazon's future?

First, the Sears brick-and-mortar business did not diminish its mail-order sales. Just the opposite. Both expanded, and it is probably a safe bet to expect Amazon's e-commerce business will only be helped by a brick-and-mortar presence.

Second, its gargantuan size will make it a target. 

Third, will it be able to evolve when technology and the economy change? Sears could not make the transition to the digital age? Will Amazon be able to adapt to whatever comes next?