Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Big Shift in Commerce Part Two

Mobile / Innovation / Technology

In Part One of the Big Shift in Commerce, I wrote about the current state of commerce in 2017 and how the buyer is now in control. In Part Two, I dive into the five key trends that will accelerate the Big Shift to online channels and towards even more buyer control over the path to purchase.

1. Data Driven Marketing and Merchandising

CMOs have learned that data rules everything, and that gaining insights from analytics is a priority. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are now beginning to power the user experience with predictive merchandising that combines purchases from similar customers, behaviors, past purchases, locations, and other variables. Sellers can more effectively cross sell and upsell to their customers using this data.

Data is truly a great equalizer. Smaller firms that use their data wisely, can now outperform larger firms that are not leveraging all their data sources.

2. Hyperlocal Customer Experiences

Large retailers and manufactures have operational efficiencies in place that allow them to reach the masses on a global scale, but being big no longer means you’re the best. Hyperlocal is what consumers and business buyers are looking for in their customer experience in 2018.

One-size-fits-all online stores are so 2015. Personalization and merchandising based on context – location, weather, season, persona, past purchases, customer specific data, and even day of the week – are more important that being a big brand with a big website and lots of products. Customer’s want their experience to be relevant to them right now, wherever they are, not something that was planned for mass market appeal a month ago.

3. Fluid Commerce

There are many definitions for omni-channel commerce, but one of the more pervasive ones is that the customer experience is consistent between devices and channels. It’s about being able to order online/pickup in-store or order in-store and ship to home, and see the same content on a phone or desktop device. These desired features, but still somewhat choppy and inconsistent. Do consumers really want the same experience on their phone as they have on a desktop screen? Maybe not!

Fluid commerce takes this approach to a new level, allowing consumers to start and finish a buying journey on different devices or channels without disruption. The experiences on those devices are more tailored to the device itself. Sometimes that is more than just basic responsive design. Hero images may be replaced by other content. Product descriptions may be shorter, with links to more detailed information if the consumer desires it.

Another example might be to add items to your shopping cart using Alexa, then finalizing the order on your iPhone. Or, perhaps you want to place an order for coffee on the train while on your way to work whenever you think of it, but be confident that your drink will be fresh because your coffee shop knows where you are and when you will arrive in the station and make it just in time.

Lowes does a great job of supporting fluid commerce. Using their app, you can shop online and find an item that is available in a store near you. Once you arrive at the store, the app will guide you directly to the item within the store. Using a map that leverages augmented reality and geolocation, you are guided to the correct aisle and location.

4. From Interface to Faceless

The traditional online storefront is slowly giving way to new buying experiences. In China, commerce is done largely online and even more so in apps within WeChat—which started as messaging app, and is now a hub for consumers to connect to other apps and content. It has become a marketplace that has comparable impact to Amazon here in the US.

According to a recent study by McKinsey, 31% of the 700 million WeChat users use the app to order online. Some purchases are done through links to other apps, some in community chat circles, others from email features within the WeChat app.

Retailers and brands are promoting the use of the native mobile apps to increase customer engagement and shift online sales to mobile apps. It is just a matter of time before more commerce is being done directly within social channels. Pinterest, Facebooks and others are all experimenting today.

5. Product Story to Storytelling

Price and availability, size and color, materials and other details are nice to know when buying online. Short descriptions tell you what the product is—those are product stories. However, storytelling describes the product and why it should be important to you, instead of what the product is. Lifestyle brands have employed this type of storytelling to differentiate their products.

Now, we see manufactures and distributors beginning to tell stories to differentiate their offerings from stores like Amazon.com or Walmart.com. Rather than present individual products, they are now creating stories about solutions that are tied to bundles of products and services. This approach can lead to more customer engagement and eventually build brand loyalty and community between their customers in their various vertical markets.

What Does This All Mean?

The reality is that consumers and business buyers are purchasing from the companies that are easiest to do business with. By providing the right information at the right time and in the right place, sellers can position themselves to earn the sale. That’s hard to do if you are still running your sales and marketing channels in the same way you did ten, or even five years ago. The time for change is now.

In my next post, I’ll focus on the five things you can do now to respond to the Big Shift.

Rightpoint leverages core capabilities in Digital Strategy, Customer Experience Design, Technical Implementations, Sales and Service, Change Management, and Digital Execution to design and implement solutions that deliver the business outcomes our customers are seeking. Learn more about how our deep understanding of B2B and omni-channel retail commerce enables our teams to drive digital transformation across all your sales and marketing channels.

Dale Traxler is Vice President of Commerce Solutions at Rightpoint. Follow Dale on Twitter and LinkedIn.