What’s Distributed Commerce?

Byron Sorrells

Breaking down the what, why, and how of e-commerce’s frictionless future

It’s midnight and you have an early-morning meeting, but you’re not drifting into R.E.M. – you’re doing what most of us do: laying in the dark, face illuminated by your phone screen, scrolling through an article about the 15 Best Sweaters for Any Time of Year. You land on the perfect crewneck you’ve been looking for and it needs to be yours, now. This cotton-merino blend will move personal and professional mountains the second you put it on and just knowing it’s on the way via two-day delivery will make your coffee in the morning taste better.

You click the “buy now” link, and instead of being taken straight to a checkout window you are bounced to another tab that’s slow to load and asks you to first sign up for a newsletter. You swat the pop up away, but then must create an account in another tab, then input your credit card – if only you could remember your CVV number. 976 or 967? Forget it – you’ll do it tomorrow. Goodbye, sweet crewneck in Narragansett Navy.

We may culturally be at the forefront of technology and AI-everything these days, but somehow we haven’t fully figured out the limitations and frictions of traditional e-commerce that thwart customers from buying. Online retail is seemingly all sold out of a seamless user experience (UX), but distributed commerce is changing that.

Distributed Commerce – How It Works

Distributed commerce is like a bulldozer knocking down the barriers, or friction, that come with traditional e-commerce and online shopping. It prioritizes customer experience and, most importantly, puts convenience at the front of the line.

It does this by going beyond the traditional e-commerce experience of “customer goes to merchant website, customer clicks on item, customers inputs payment and shipping information.” Via distributed commerce, that process becomes possible whether the customer is on the brand or merchant’s website or not, allowing retailers to drive sales beyond their platforms. Customers can buy directly wherever they come across the product, including on social media platforms, apps, games, affiliate networks or publishers that incorporate affiliate marketing into their content, without being sent somewhere else.

Why Is Distributed Commerce a Game Changer?

Building an ecommerce brand can feel like fighting two battles at once: You need to be able to find your customers - maybe you’re doing that through an ad agency, marketing, or targeted content - and you need to be able to sell to them.

Distributed commerce changes the game because it allows brands to find their customers and drive sales anywhere their customers are online, via shoppable media. (Think: via ads on social media or the affiliate marketing blogs we mentioned in the section above.) Essentially, distributed commerce allows a customer to buy a product when they see it, instead of having to hopscotch across the internet, or avoid pop ups, tabs and cookie requests windows, to do so.

It also helps address the drain on sales caused by friction, or the abandoned sweater scenario we opened with. Coresight Research, a retail and technology advisory firm, estimates that US online retailers are losing between $111 and $136 billion a year in sales due to suboptimal checkout experiences.

How Can Distributed Commerce Be Incorporated Into Your Strategy?

For merchants, ad agencies, or platforms that publish affiliate marketing, having a solid distributed commerce strategy means giving customers who have grown accustomed to living in a “buy now or bust” world, what they expect.

Integrating platforms and tools like Dispatch, which drives conversion via convenience and simplifies the checkout process, can set you up for growth. Dispatch's ecommerce connectors offer a straightforward onboarding process within platforms like Shopify, Adobe Commerce, or Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud. This allows merchants to easily list their products for sale via our distributed checkout solution and meet their customers where they are.

May you find that sweater you’ve been looking for. If you want to dive deeper, read our Distributed Commerce 2023: Everything You Need to Know guide.