The Retailer's Crystal Ball: All Signs Point to Innovation
Looking to the horizon of the digital commerce landscape, one can only imagine what lies beyond – or know exactly how fast it will once again become the foreground of all that we can see. Improvements in business intelligence and technologies, the driving force of the Digital Transformation, and an ever-growing mobile audience (2 billion global smartphone users by 2016, according to eMarketer) has undeniably disrupted the ways in which brands market and sell to consumers.
Despite these changes, most organizations have adapted fairly well. Arguably, we can find all of our favorite products, services, and media in a variety of off and online channels – quickly and easily. But for as fast as best practices in digital marketing, commerce, and content strategy have been established, our guess is that it won’t be too much longer until we’re implementing solutions for a new group of consumers with a challenging set of demands. Developing new touchpoints, architecting holistic environments that allow for a 360 degree view of the customer, acquiring and retaining thought-leaders, and automating time-consuming processes while maintaining flexibility, will enable the innovation brands will need to succeed.
Sound a bit too far-fetched? Too much too soon?
We’re closer than you think to a new wave of interruption, as emerging trends point to the need for retailers to discover new methods of researching, targeting, communicating, and retaining loyal, engaged customers. Consider the following:
With every new smartphone comes a new app or feature. And while a brand will need more than just an app to exceed the new consumer’s expectations, the way that any particular mobile tactic fits into the overall marketing strategy will be essential to achieving success in creating a streamlined experience.
A great real-world example is the text-a-Starbucks option Verizon Wireless rolled out late last year. Integrated directly within any Android or iOS phone messaging app, the feature allows a user to send a gift card to a friend (on any carrier) from $5 to $25. The cost of the venti latte/frap/mochachino is then tacked on directly to the Verizon account holder’s bill. If that person uses auto-pay, no money is ever physically exchanged. One doesn’t need to know another’s account numbers or personal information, and the sender never has to leave his or her house.
Applying this to other industries – clothing, home improvement, recreation, and more, what implications might this have? With a few clicks, Grandma in Honolulu could send Suzie in Hartford one hundred dollars to her favorite clothing store – effortlessly and instantaneously.
Merchandising Beyond the Storefront
Socially speaking, Pinterest recently unveiled Buyable Pins. Unlike Facebook or Twitter commerce integrations, Pinterest does not reroute the user to the brand’s site – instead, by featuring real-time information via APIs directly within the Pinterest interface, the brand effectively extends its own showcasing functionality. The ecommerce store can feature the latest products and lines, while Pinterest can maintain the fan-favorites that complete look and style boards.
Google recently announced it too would start embedding buy buttons within mobile search results, with purchases completed directly through Google's own checkout - the customer never touching the retailer's site. Effectively, social networks and search engines become retailers themselves, providing new opportunities for low-friction customer acquisition (though retailers must understand the impact on brand and customer loyalty).
Endless Possibilities with The Internet of Things
The aforementioned are tangible – they exist, they’re possible with a bit of strategy, technology, and forward-thinking, and can be implemented by most brands. But looking deep into the future, past The Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon and one can envision possibilities so bold that they straddle the line between Martin Cooper’s vision for the mobile phone and living on the moon.
Picture this: you’re getting dressed for work in the morning. You’re brushing your teeth or combing your hair and an alert embedded in your mirror tells you it’s raining outside and it’s only going to get colder as the day progresses. It then informs you you’re running out of milk. The applications within your mirror and refrigerator send an alert to your key fob (that you have to grab before you leave) to take your overcoat, rain boots, and buy milk on your way home. If you’re the forgetful type, it may also be integrated with your mobile device.
Let’s suppose though that you don’t own rain boots? Perhaps you’ve only just moved to the Northwestern United States from Arizona and you hadn’t realized how much it really does rain. What if you could purchase them directly from within another screen in your mirror, or through a dedicated app on your mobile device, ready to pick up as soon as you’re done for the day – because the store it suggested you buy from is conveniently located next door?
While you’re at work, your pre-programmed vacuum is busy gliding from room to room, careful to miss the cat food dish and your shoelaces. It’s using the last filter you have, so it simply places an order (if you haven’t already set up a recurring order with your provider) which is then delivered via drone to your front door. You’re fascinated with the efficiency of your smart home, your internet-enabled devices that leave little room for error that provide you with the freedom to enjoy your down-time. Maybe that’s reading your favorite book on a tablet or watching that television program via streaming service. Your life is easier, and with every brand interaction, that retailer or service provider learns a little bit more about you – enhancing the targeted personalization of future engagements.
The future of retailing is bright and only as limited as we imagine it to be – so what does your brand see?