March 11th, 2015 | 6 MIN READ

Experience-Driven Commerce: A Paradigm Shift in Digital Sales and Engagement

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

It's Partner Thursday! Today's post is contributed by ICF Interactive. Adobe’s 2014 North American Partner of the Year, ICF Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how.

Forget most of what you already know about online retailing. Whether you refer to it as multichannel or omnichannel, (while not exactly the same, these terms are frequently used interchangeably) the ways in which your consumers are researching, purchasing, and interacting have evolved, effectively backing most brands into a largely-reactive corner. The staple monolithic commerce system, featuring grid-style storefront pages with less-than-appealing images and descriptions, and disjointed internal strategies that isolate marketing and content initiatives from product management hinder both the buying process and internal growth.

Instead of continuing to fire-fight leveraging a traditional commerce approach, organizations must realign with experience-driven systems and methods to build relationships with, and sell to, the modern consumer.

Experience-Driven Commerce

exp-driven-commerce-1Experience-driven commerce capitalizes on each touchpoint, both online and off, that your brand has with customers. It builds awareness, provides information at precise moments of need, and enables decision making and sales throughout the customer journey. Additionally, experience-driven commerce allows brands to add purchasing functionality to any channel, consistently to any device – this layer negates the need for a standalone shopping cart requiring the consumer to perform multiple clicks or travel through multiple pages to add items to his or her cart.

While experience-driven commerce might not seem as radical of an idea to some, implementing the solutions and strategies necessary will require commerce, marketing, and IT leadership to collectively develop new ways to build brand loyalty through customized interactions. Contrasted with a multi or omnichannel approach, experience-driven commerce places the emphasis on revolutionizing digital engagements by redefining the mobile-armed customer, developing a digital environment that inherently supports personalized content delivery, and reimagining the sales cycle as perpetual. With a new understanding of what it means to provide consumers with the information they need and the means to easily act on it, brands can begin to distinguish themselves amongst their competitors on factors other than price, promotion, and placement.

The concept of experience-driven commerce is truly game-changing, and while there will be challenges such as reorganizing internal teams and departments to eliminate silos and their previously owned data, integrating best-of-breed technology solutions to augment or altogether replace legacy commerce and content systems, and developing revised strategies, there are steps brands can take that will clear a path for substantial digital experience initiatives.

Redefine the Customer Experience with a Journey Map

exp-d-c-2Providing a rewarding, engaging, and consistent experience requires truly understanding the customer at each one of his or her interactions with your brand – from research, to purchase, and beyond.

One of the best ways to know who your customer is and what he or she needs at precise moments is to become one. Quite literally, this means creating a diagram that depicts each touchpoint a person might have with your brand, products, and services within every channel.

If you have physical stores, what does someone who walks in see? If your brand is active on social media, what kinds of content do you share and how do your followers interact with it?

Throughout this process, you’ll discover areas of strength as well as places that could requirement refinement. The goal of developing a customer journey map is to create a decision tree that illustrates actions a customer might or might not take as they experience your story, which in turn will greatly influence the overall digital marketing strategy.

Mobile Considerations within the Content Strategy

Your consumer is constantly connected. According to a recent Internet Retailer article, the average American is actively using a smartphone for almost five hours per day, with the majority searching for information and completing tasks relative to their moments of need. What will he or she find when searching for information on the products and services your brand offers? From an experience-driven perspective, (and using the customer journey map, analytics, and other data points as a guide) what are the things your customers are most likely to search for via a mobile device?

Once you have identified the needs of your mobile audience, you’ll first want to ensure that the user interface is enabled for mobile displays (whether responsive web design or adaptive web design is employed). It won’t matter if you’re providing users with the content they’re looking for if they can’t see it properly or find it easily within the navigation. Additionally, while users might surf the web for information on your brand’s product or service, he or she may have downloaded your app or be interacting with you on Twitter or Facebook. Each of these channels will require different types of content, that maintain brand consistency, that function to improve the overall experience.

Can customers use social media interaction for loyalty purposes? Perhaps your brand leverages its accounts for one-on-one service or product care. Mobile content should enable sales and decision-making, enhancing the customer experience.

Technology Enablement

First came static HTML, then the great content-versus-commerce debate. Throw in customer relationship management, enterprise resource management, and a myriad of other platforms and solutions and it’s likely your brand’s digital systems are a mix of legacy and modern, featuring varying levels of integration.

While larger, out-of-the-box ready platforms have ruled the commerce scene, brands and analysts alike are starting to see and agree on the benefits of a best-of-breed technology solutions approach. Through a best-of-breed approach, brands should consider investing in technologies that serve specific purposes, but also integrating them with every other system to create a holistic environment.

If the customer experience now drives commerce and strategy management, then the customer experience engine needs to be robust and scalable, and must also feature seamless integration capabilities into every other mission-critical system. Commerce, then, should be a layered extension that stores customer histories, product information, and provides the abilities to bundle and combine items. System integration is essential in that it helps to maintain the flow of real-time information, across both the organization and to the consumer.

Each brand’s technology needs will differ, based on unique business challenges and requirements, but with experience at the core of every brand’s plan for unparalleled engagement, you’ll be positioning your brand to lead in satisfaction and sales.

Lift to Shift

edc-3As an organizational change agent knows, getting an entire brand to deviate from the norm can be challenging. And just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, migrating from a traditional commerce approach to a modern, experience-driven model will require time, resources, data, and dedication.

Begin by lifting the lighter items first – create a customer journey map or evaluate your current environment with a digital momentum checkpoint. Armed with this data, you’ll have a better idea as to the systems you should invest in, and your brand will have made great strides towards leading with the experience.

Mystified by "experience-driven commerce?" Elastic Path will be releasing a definitive guide to experience driven commerce, The New Customer Journey: A Convergence of Content, Context, Channels and Commerce <-- Pre-register today

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