Why Do We Suck At E-Commerce For Services?

I read an article today about Inkbay, a Swedish online tattoo research and booking service. It’s a cool idea and I wish the founder, Fredrik Glimskär luck but I couldn’t help but wonder why his service is necessary.

We’re generally, pretty good at e-commerce in North America. Most products can be, and are, purchased over the internet – through the vendor’s website or Amazon. But, comparatively, we suck at selling small services over the internet. I understand that the value in e-commerce is reduced for a lot of services – you can’t send a tattoo over the internet – but I still think we can do better.

If I were to research where to get my next tattoo, I would start where anyone would start to research anything – Google. After a quick search of “tattoo shops near me”, I get this page…


To this point, I think the experience is perfectly designed – I love being able to filter the results by rating and dynamically update the list when I move my view on the map – but I don’t want to have to leave Google to access all the information I need to make my choice. I also need to filter by price and product/service information – in this case, the designs the shop offers. That is the deficiency of current e-commerce for services.

What if when I clicked on “Two Trolls Tattoo Den” the map on the right is replaced with a gallery of all the designs the shop offers. I could select the one I wanted, specify where on my body I wanted it and what size I wanted it to be. Then, an approximate price would be displayed. If I agreed with that price, I could schedule an appointment or access the shop’s contact information to ask more questions. All of this could be done in one place.

Although I have never been to experience it for myself, there is one mobile app that dominates life in China – WeChat. What began as a social media and messaging app has evolved to include an e-commerce service that, to my knowledge, is very similar to what I described in my previous thought experiment. WeChat’s success has Facebook and Google working to replicate that experience in the North American market but clearly, they haven’t yet. While Google is ahead of Facebook in consumer research tools, Facebook does seem to have the edge on payments. When you visit a business’s Facebook page you may be able to buy things from the “Shop” section in the page’s left column but not many people know this feature exists, never mind use it.

The core competency of a small business is their products or services, which aren’t typically web development and marketing. That’s why so many of their websites are useless. Instead of pointing consumers to these terrible websites, I think it would be brilliant if Google and Facebook developed pages for businesses on their platforms. They could charge for the service and maintenance and then use the pages to improve their own e-commerce solutions, very much in the way I laid it out in my thought experiment. It would save us consumers a lot of time and effort, and save the internet from a lot of bad webpages!