Will we have to learn new shopping patterns?
The »web« is blowing up its own boundaries – at least if one examines the relationship between the tightly wound www-synonym »network« and the latest developments of the digital world. Future trends and digital standards are unfettering themselves to unleash entirely novel freedoms and application options. Hence, it is not a coincidence that even the E-commerce multi and omni channel strategies are breaking out of their chains to embark on the mission to heed the highly promising call of the future. The timeline of growing opportunities consolidates itself one more time and brightens the retail world with an unrivaled intuitive resource usage spectrum.
On the trails the adventure of shopping.
Rogers, Arkansas, USA. The year is 1962. The long line of backed up traffic – chugging Impalas, Pontiacs, Dodges and Cadillacs – reaches all the way to the horizon while a vast parking lot expanse appears before our eyes. It is filling up with cars. All the way in the rear – you can’t miss it – the huge single-story mammoth of a building and the magical logo – »Wal-Mart.« About twenty years earlier, Sam Walton opened his first mercantile without category restrictions. On this mellow day in July, while temperatures hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, his concept is reaching its first major milestone. While Walmart’s debut retail store only boasts about a fifth of today’s superstore floorspace, shoppers come in droves, beckoned by an amazing 22 departments that promise that any shopping experience here will have a happy ending. The merchandise on the shelves ranges from canned beans for the pantry to earrings for ladies. The store offers the very first experience of »seamless« shopping. Things locals had to buy in small individual shops before or that weren’t even available in small towns could now be placed in a large shopping cart. All you had to do is browse through the aisles. On top of that, the prices are better than anywhere else!
Listening to the satisfied customers talking about their experience as they stand between the man-high aisles one realizes that Walmart founder Sam Walton had identified another beneficial factor in the original store concept: Location. Back then, Rogers was a small town – population around 6,000. Their shopping options are limited to the town’s Main Street, which is livelier on some days as it is on others. Hence, looking at it from the locals’ perspective, the grand opening of a gigantic discount store in their immediate proximity was equivalent to the discovery of the land of milk and honey in their own gardens.
However, 1962 was not just the year that ushered in the permanent availability of budget priced consumer goods; the first via satellite TV broadcast also happened that same year. Millions of people around the globe assembled in front of television sets to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from Berlin, the Eiffel Tower from Moscow or to see the steel smelting furnaces in the Ruhr Region from New York. A few degrees of latitude to the west, the University of Hawaii harnesses the possibilities of new boundlessness just seven years later. To connect its departments that are scattered across multiple islands, it creates the world’s first ever WLAN network.
Never mind all the visionary forces that have been attributed to the 1980s. The future of E-commerce in fact began in a decade when the German term »Flottes Laufwerk«
(Fast Drive) was still used to describe beautiful legs and had nothing to do with powerful IT accessories. Accessibility, proximity to the customer, dynamic pricing, digitization and boundlessness – those are the fundamental pillars that have ensured – since the 1960s – that we can increasingly see all of our needs reflected in the digital world. Those who dare to look back realize that we are not really moving forward at breakneck speed. The most recent prophecies of doom may not completely fade away without some echo effects; however, people of today and people of tomorrow are in closer proximity than ever before. The joint objective is a future of completely new perspectives in the prism of a never-before-seen mega trend for retailers: seamless commerce.
Ball or team captain?
As it is being implemented, seamless commerce once again facilitates the interaction with technology. The rigid concepts of web and device are softening: The more both elements meld with a third factor – humans – the more pliable they become.
Hand in hand with other inventions – e.g. shy tech, chatbots and artificial intelligence, seamless commerce creates an immerse customer experience. Consequently, brick and mortar retailers no longer see E-commerce as a mere expansion of product portfolios and sales channels. Both merge into a customer experience many protagonists of science fiction fairy tales can only dream of.
For instance, if a consumer discovers an object of his or her desire on social media, there are options to try digitally try on the item via an app or similar tool, order it in just a few clicks and take possession of it that very same day. Even brick and mortar store systems have long moved beyond using mobile devices in the background. Tablets, touchscreens and other devices have become central sources for customer-driven product selection and are now the hubs of providing efficient customer service. However, tablets or beacons positioned in the store, which communicate with the customers’ smartphones, do not replace face-to-face consultations. They allow shoppers and sales staff, who formerly were restricted to the opposite ends of the retail process, to communicate on an equal level. Thanks to the added digital service features, the customer now has the option to e.g. view different versions of a model, compare prices or, if they are shopping for fashion, get inspiration for purchases by browsing through online combination and styling options.
The possibilities go well beyond that: When shopping from the couch at home, the customer of the future will no longer be limited to online ordering via mouse click. Conversational sales technology »transports« shoppers directly into the brick and mortar store via platforms and devices, such as smartphones, tables or Google Glasses. Hence, they can now interact directly with the sales staff on the floor and go through all individually relevant facts via voice and image communications.
While homemakers in Arkansas entered the first Walmart store starry-eyed in the 1960 and gave up the fun of decision-making in favor of consumption-oriented entertainment, in the future, we will once again make our own autonomous decisions of where to shop and how much of an impact promotions or companies have on us and are allowed to distract us. Ever faster and more powerful search functions available to navigate the products and services a company sells online help shoppers prepare for a specific purchase that will eventually be completed offline. In some cases, after reviewing the products, we may continue our search elsewhere or start all over again. Dash buttons, which allow us to order a specific product or repeat a previous purchase at the touch of a button also support the targeted acquisition of favorite products. Those who no longer want to take care of any of their household restocking needs can count on smart home technologies, which allow your own refrigerator or an app to monitor food and household goods inventories and may also enable these solutions to autonomously order stock.
Convenient shopping in the passing lane.
The elimination of boundaries between online and offline purchases is not the only characteristic of seamless commerce and the affiliated newly evolving shopping experience. The highly coveted speed is finally off to the races as well: The vibrant society of the future, which ultimately imposes racing speed demands upon new technologies, finds new ways to express itself in seamless commerce. In conjunction with this, it emphasizes yet another advantage of this digital evolutionary wave. After all, going forward, retailers are supposed to focus on only one thing: the joy of shopping. Concretely, this means that all factors that obstruct the ease of the shopping process are reduced to an absolute minimum. This includes lengthy selection processes and payment transactions.
As part of this high speed shopping model, payment options are viewed in a completely different light. No contact payment options are beginning to penetrate the market and are already making headway with an increasing number of businesses. However, as far as the seamless commerce model of the future is concerned, shoppers do not even have to pull out their credit or debit cards any longer. Payment processes are concluded in just seconds using fingerprint or facial recognition technologies and sensors.
For entrepreneurs, individual pricing is one of the elements of seamless commerce that overcomes the limits of the past when it comes to independent pricing. Customers or clients are offered percentage-based discounts as well as payment terms tailored to them based on a wide range of data sources (such as buying patterns, special life events, etc.). As an alternative, shoppers help vendors boost their digital reach. They may pay cash or by electronic means for a snack at the food counter around the corner – or they may share the offer on social media – in the future, these scenarios will effectively help shape our consumer behavior.
Hand in hand: Revolutionary delivery options are making headway.
Ever since legions of paper bags full of purchases marked the successful conclusion of the shopping experiences in the arms of satisfied Walmart customers, heavy shopping bags were considered something of a status symbol. Those who are tired of schlepping their own bags when they leave the brick and mortar store will be able to conveniently shop at the store, pay online once they are back home and have their merchandise dropped off at their homes the same evening or the next day. The delivery monopolies of the postal and courier services now face competition from other customers shopping at the same store who will bring your purchases to your home. In exchange, the »delivery service« receives a shopping voucher. Freelance taxi cab operators or delivery drivers on e-bikes offer up their services and reap the benefits through vouchers or percentage-based discounts on their own purchases from the companies that participate.
Even if the term »shopping« still refers to the procurement of certain merchandise or services in exchange for money, in seamless commerce, the »procurement» aspect is noticeably fading away in favor of the unencumbered shopping experience. In recent surveys, consumers are already claiming that they perceive shopping as a form of wellness exercise. After all, seamless commerce accommodates the yearning for a relaxing shopping experience with a wide spectrum of technological facets.
The seamless future comes in many forms.
To date, Sam Walton is considered a pioneer because of his Walmart concept. However, the innovative entrepreneur did not just contribute to retail history because he offered needs-based selections at flexible prices that met high quality standards and was able to offer it all from a single source. Walton’s approach was groundbreaking especially as far as the customer experience was concerned. While Walmart amazed shoppers with equestrian schools and mountains of melons, the next digitization wave is once again revolutionizing even the ideas, expectations and needs of ultra-modern customer orientation concepts. With seamless commerce, the world of online and offline retailers is jumping head first into a new era. As a result, the customer journey evolves into a travel adventure that leads directly into a future of self-determination in which technology and society benefit from each other in a way we have never seen before.
Written by Timo Hess.
Are we just conjuring up dreams of the future?
No matter whether you want to go your own way as a seamless commerce pioneer or move your company into a vital future of customer-proximate selling – our experts are here to assist you to design a contemporary and efficient customer experience for your target group. Tailormade marketing solutions paired with creative prospecting and retargeting will perfectly position your enterprise and will turn the seamless commerce dreams of the future into tangible realities on both sides of the screen.