Brad Alan, VP, Commerce, R/GA
Since Amazon.com launched more than 20 years ago, the story of ecommerce has been more about continual optimization than about disruptive innovation. Looking around the web, one can see that the majority of ecommerce sites utilize a standard formula. However, the rise of mobile as our primary (or only) way of accessing the Internet is rapidly altering the landscape. Never more than a few feet away, smartphones—and, increasingly, connected devices of all types—enable consumers to make purchases wherever and whenever they have the desire.
- Spilled coffee on your shirt but stuck at work? Buy a new one from Everlane and have it delivered within an hour by Postmates.
- Want to buy the Jordan Brand sneakers Drake is wearing in his latest video? Just hit the “buy” button embedded in the YouTube video and check out once the video is done.
- Just realized you’re almost out of paper towels? Push the Bounty Dash Button in your pantry and a new pack will be delivered in two days.
What do all of these experiences have in common? They are all simple and seamless and allow consumers to quickly get back to the things they were doing before the need or desire to buy occurred to them.
Typically, brands and marketers dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to creating “experiences” designed to push consumers down traditional purchase paths. However, shopping doesn’t always have to be an experience—especially for frequently purchased items. Why should consumers have to dedicate so much time and effort to buying the same things over and over again?
For brands, the trick is to make transactions as quick and convenient as possible by letting consumers pull the trigger on a purchase the moment inspiration strikes. More often than not, our impulses to buy are prompted by everyday digital interactions, such as browsing our favorite apps and websites. Increasingly, social platforms are becoming viable avenues for making purchases, with all of the major players, from Facebook and Google to Snapchat and Pinterest, integrating “buy” buttons across their various platforms. These integrations are making it possible for consumers to learn about products and make purchases without ever leaving their original source of inspiration.
Automating the everyday
While lowering the barrier to purchase is an important step, the real magic happens when the onus of ordering is taken off consumers and placed on the products themselves. Amazon, through its Dash Replenishment Service (DRS), is working with manufacturers to integrate sensors that automatically place an order from a user’s Amazon account when a product starts to run low on supplies or to need replacement parts. Imagine a water pitcher ordering new filters, or a printer ordering more ink cartridges. Even if consumers are unaware of the need, brands can stay relevant by making themselves available at just the right time. For the customer, confirming a reorder could be as simple as replying to an SMS.
Your new personal shopper
Automated consumerism informed by earned data is the new frontline for ecommerce. Further, the integration of artificial intelligence will allow brands to analyze individual purchase histories and demonstrated behaviors to more accurately predict not only what their customers will need next, but where they will need it and when.
For instance, say you typically order flowers every year in the first week of June. A digital assistant should be able to automate that order annually, but it wouldn’t understand why you always make that particular purchase. However, if this same order is coupled with your social and earned data, the assistant might then correctly “infer” that your mother’s birthday falls in early June and, in addition to placing your regular flower order, suggest complementary products based on her location and unique interests (dinner reservations at a local restaurant, gift cards from brands she follows online, etc.).
As the technology advances, such suggestions will become much more sophisticated—expanding the role brands can play when consumers make day-to-day purchase decisions. Moving forward, the challenge will be to start integrating more nuanced personal preferences and automating more complex, socially infused purchases.
Reinventing your ecommerce strategy
With the pace of change in ecommerce increasing by the day, it can be a daunting challenge to create a roadmap that takes you from where you currently are to where consumers expect you to be. It can be even more daunting when you look at the significant investments you’ve already made in people, technology, and processes.
There are many avenues to explore, but we believe that three key principles will form the basis of any ecommerce strategy.
First, brands must understand the new and changing expectations of their customers. These expectations have been disrupted by mobile-first experiences from the likes of Uber, Starbucks, and Amazon. As a brand, you must reset, regroup, and find the path forward for your specific customers. Essentially, today’s consumers expect a set of experiences that are not only personalized but relevant, valuable, and tied together by amazing customer service.
Next, you must shift how you innovate and roll out solutions to your customers. It is no longer acceptable to develop a product internally over a long period of time and then unveil it to the world all at once. Experimenting early and often and scaling when ready have become the new norm. This approach is intended to inspire action and allows brands to quickly transition from talking to doing. At R/GA we are helping our clients iterate quickly with prototypes that allow them to test concepts, learn what matters, determine why things may not work, and then roll out revisions at scale.
Lastly, you need to interconnect the experiences that customers have with your brand. Consumers think of brands as single entities and expect that you are monitoring every interaction they have with you, in an effort to make their experiences better over time. It is unacceptable for your organizational structure to be the reason why a shopper doesn’t have a great experience every time. If the experience that you create fails to meet your customers’ expectations, they won’t hesitate to shop elsewhere the next time they are ready to buy.