How will commerce evolve in the next five years? What is going to happen now that the mobile screen has become the main reference for digital customers? What should retail brands do to respond to the challenges of digital commerce?
We know that the retail customer experience is not a concept valid now and forever, as it is the product of the revolution brought in by technology. The future of retail industry lies in the ability to adapt those innovations, to enable continuous experiences across all channels and devices.
The innovation of consumer, retail and distribution is a topic we have already talked about very often. The reason is simple: retail industry is the main battlefield for the old and new marketing, that will ultimately decide the fate of the relationship between companies and customers in the years to come.
There is no industry whose customer experience depends so heavily on technology like retail. This peculiarity makes it the ideal barometer to highlight the difference between traditional funnels and the new customer journey.
To make it short, the entire retail value chain has been rewritten: brand and product lose their leading position, replaced by the experience delivered to customers. Too many marketers, however, are still missing the importance of mobile and digital in the everyday life of customers.
The role of the smartphone is so important that traditional retailers should reimagine how they create and capture value to compete effectively in the global arena. How? Going beyond the single channel to learn how to engage, understand and delight digital clients, by delivering memorable - and contextual - experiences.
We have gathered a relevant amount of information, used for this article, at the last Gartner Symposium that took place in Barcelona. A truly inspiring set of keynotes ranging from the technological advancements affecting digital strategies to the latest trends in customer experience management.
One useful insight that came out strong from the speeches is the difference between traditional commerce, e-commerce and the digital commerce:
- Traditional Commerce: customers buy products and services from trustworthy suppliers, relying on the opinion of family and friends; their purchase behavior is predictable and mostly influenced by price and location.
- E-Commerce: customers buy products and services using virtual channels and e-stores located all over the world, relying on the opinion of family/friends, social contacts, online reviews; their purchase behavior is mostly influenced by quality and price.
- Digital Commerce: the combination of e-commerce and traditional transactions. The process involves both physical and virtual elements, and might end up online or in store. The interaction results in a transaction of value to the customer, where value is based on different factors, such as the overall experience, price, time spent, ease of use and the quality of the journey.
The emergence of digital commerce brings new - and somewhat unexpected - challenges for B2C and even B2B organizations. Gartner identifies four areas for improvement:
- Competition: By 2017, due to markets more and more flat, digital customer experience will be the key brand differentiator.
- Understanding: Predictive analytics and customer behavior analysis will be critical to understand and exploit the new customer journey map.
- Consumerization: The digital customer will be the epicenter of all strategies, for B2C companies and even for B2B business models.
- Complexity: The customer experience comes from all the interactions between the brand and the client, it is not the result of a single technology or touch point.
Your ability to keep the pace with the (social and technological) evolution will ultimately decide your role in the race for relevance. True customer engagement is not a one fits all solution; it is a never ending effort to improve, instead.
All trends traced by Gartner start from this awareness: the inevitable necessity to design - around the customer - a continuous experience that is omni-channel, collaborative and contextual.
COMMERCE IS ANYWHERE
The advent of mobile devices has changed the very idea of retail, and now the bond between content and context is so strong that you can’t ignore it, even if you want. Commerce is anywhere and the customer sets the rules, demanding that the retail brand is able to deliver location-aware contents (i.e. push notification) and to supply anything he needs, anytime he needs it, on any device.
COMMERCE IS PERSONAL
Retailers need to acknowledge the uniqueness of customers, each with his peculiar habits, behaviors, desires and pain points. Retail strategy must be personal (with tailored contents), contextual (across all touch points) and not invasive. Remember that, in this new era for relationships, it is all about the customer, not your brand or product. Recognize him and make his life easier and fun.
COMMERCE IS VISUAL
Now that social networks have become the primary community circle (and the advertising arena so crowded and inefficient), the road to engagement and loyalty goes through epic visual contents. For the retail industry that translates into a whole new way to show and display products and brand identity, unlocking the power of technologies such as virtual reality (HoloLens, Oculus Rift), 3D Showroom, augmented reality, innovative mobile apps.
COMMERCE IS CONNECTED
The times when the shelves and aisles of the physical store were the only way to experience products are over. Today, worldwide competition make it easy to buy and sell anywhere you like. In the connected era, everyone can produce, sell and deliver, and the most fierce competitor might be not your neighbor but the start-up from the smallest place on earth. To survive, the shop must evolve accordingly, becoming smart and autonomous (i.e. the Internet of Things).
COMMERCE IS SOCIAL
The social element is the foundation of commerce itself. Social commerce is just the next step in the natural evolution of the brand-customer relationship. All major networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram) are now aiming at translating into an “e-commerce with a social root”. A win-win situation for retailers, that will finally give full meaning to their digital presence sharing deals, building trust, interacting with customers and showing a human touch.
Is retail really dead? The answer is 'No', but retailers surely need to change. Advertising, product, price and production efficiency have represented the core of marketing for way too many years. While they are still part of your strategy, digital commerce has brought the most underrated element on center stage: the customer and his experience.
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