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It was the early 2000s when the iTunes Music Store sold a million songs in the first week of its launch. That simple act of sitting in front of a computer screen instead of walking into a record shop, and purchasing a song online—not a full album, not a physical record or a CD, but one song of choice from a vast online catalogue—changed not just the music industry, I believe it fundamentally tied technology to shopping in an enduring way for customers.

Next-generation Commerce: Getting ‘with it’

With technology as its backbone, e-commerce has grown from strength to strength in recent years. But the locus where it truly manifests is the customer. It is in the customer’s hands that it clicks into action and demonstrates results. And the expansion of ecommerce has been significantly propelled by the growing user-base of millennials. For a generation joined at the hip with their phones and largely dependent on technology, the ease, variety, and multichannel brilliance of ecommerce is a great draw for millennials looking to purchase things; all kinds of things. 42% of millennials have bought a product on their phones, as per the Global Web Index, foretelling growth in mobile commerce too. The market-altering dominance of millennials is not just due to their sheer numbers and the numbers of what they buy; it is because they also influence the behaviors of earlier generations in terms of buying habits, consumption patterns, the usage of technology, and adoption of new platforms.

This change in the demographic of the growing population online has coincided with the coming of the digital revolution. I see businesses now evolving from ecommerce to next-generation commerce. Next-generation commerce is much more holistic and layered than vanilla ecommerce templates or simply drop-shipping online, and these nuanced developments flow from technology and new digital trends.

Which technologies are shaping next-generation e-commerce?

With customers who are so tech-savvy (almost tech-dependent, I’d say), e-commerce is moulding itself to deliver to them. Now, new technologies such as mobile, predictive analytics, and social media are making it possible for companies to respond to the changing needs of the new digital consumer. Essentially, these technology trends are improving the user experience by catering to their preferences, habits, and expectations. What are they doing?

  • ‘Intuitively’ understanding the customer: With big data, predictive analytics, and cookie-based retargeting, companies are able to forecast preferences and behaviors. This allows them to proactively do targeted selling and marketing, making the customer feel understood. As per the Mobile Shopping Survey Series by AisleBuyer, 75% of customers would switch to brands that deliver real-time promotions to their smartphones as they shopped. When an e-retailer sends you an auto-alert that it is time to refill your kitchen’s sugar jar or you get a discount on a shaver you were considering buying, as a customer you appreciate such convenience and subscriptions/notifications turn meaningful.
  • Interacting with customers: Social media is a kind of microcosmic universe where companies can interact with their target users, listening to their preferences, as well as sharing about products and benefits. The specifics of different social media platforms add to the range of ways companies can converse with their existing and potential audiences, by capitalizing on their strengths. Millennials are reported to be very involved with brands, sharing feedback and reviews. This is good for brands as they can tailor their offering and brand proposition to be appealing. Social media algorithms, chatbots, big data, and cloud all add substance to the interactions, pulling customers into the circle of brand communities.
  • Making shopping seamless: Social media also lends itself to what I feel next-generation commerce is really all about – making the whole customer journey as seamless as possible. This is enabled by mobile and multichannel technologies. The focus is not so much on driving customers into e-stores, but in taking e-stores to customers. Online window shopping is very common with digital consumers continuously browsing various platforms and shopping sites, and the ease of multichannel helps this, pushing towards better conversions. Digital payments – through online payment providers and mobile wallets – are a key ingredient to supporting the seamless shopping experience. So the digital consumer floats comfortably from work to unwinding, buying a book to start reading, checking a match score, liking a friend’s selfie in a new outfit, browsing similar outfits, wishlisting a handful of items, pausing to order lunch, then transferring shopping gift points to a friend, and so on, ad infinitum. Today, there really seem no limits to what you can buy online, or indeed even to how shopping is defined, and responsive, agile, multichannel technologies are to thank for this.

The beauty is in how such an array of technological developments and digital trends come together to improve the holistic shopping experience, enabling customers to delight in it, and supporting companies in deriving benefits and brand loyalty. So such next-generation commerce is a win-win for everyone, including for start-ups and small businesses for whom the egalitarian digital space where they are not overshadowed by big market-leaders, is a boon. I believe technology providers and innovators will do well to consistently respond to the preferences and usage habits of digital consumers and millennials as they draw the landscape of next-generation commerce.

Upinder Zutshi

Upinder Zutshi as Managing Director & CEO of Infinite is a very unconventional leader, and has nurtured the growth of infinite with a very hands-on-approach. With his remarkable leadership, Upinder has defined the strategic direction of the Company, making Infinite’s revenue grow above industry average. He has been instrumental in setting the vision for Infinite to be positioned as a Global Service Provider and moving the Company up the value chain by focusing on differentiated services and product based offerings in a non-conventional engagement and business models.

Under Upinder’s leadership, Infinite has grown to be in the Nasscom Top 20 IT providers in India with a revenue of US$ 255 Million in FY 2013; 5000+ employees worldwide, been named as Top 5 employers in India by Dataquest – IDC, Forbes Asia 200 Best Under a Billion Company in 2012; Top 10 Global Telecom Outsourcing Providers by IAOP and has been recognized as technology thought leaders in the emerging areas like mobility, messaging and analytics. He spearheaded the IPO of Infinite, which was one of the most successful IPOs in 2010, with a historic opening where it was over-subscribed manifold in a stock market where the giants were struggling through a global economic-crisis.

Upinder has over 28 years of experience in initiating and establishing startups and building an efficient management team under his guidance. His empathetic style makes him a very popular leader amongst the young and dynamic employees of Infinite. His leadership style encourages entrepreneurial culture that is goals driven, based on respect for people, freedom of thought, expression and action along with globalized business processes, practices and organizational structure that help create transparency and drive accountability within Infinite globally. Upinder realized early on that the company needed a winning team to make the Infinite vision a reality. His leadership is evident in the progressive work environment at Infinite, where qualified and experienced people bring depth and maturity while retaining focus on flexibility, innovation and integrity which are the core elements of the entrepreneurial DNA of the organization.

In his formative years, he has worked extensively in US, Europe, Middle East and India, with reputed companies holding key leadership positions. A greater part of his career, post his first job at CMC Limited, has included experience in building early stage companies, setting-up start-up ventures and developing them into growth organizations. Prior to joining Infinite, Upinder was, for a period of six years, the Chief Executive Officer of Velocient Technologies Inc., a digital consulting & IT services company in the US. For five years preceding this, he was the co-founder and Vice President at Eastern Software Systems (ESS) Ltd., a leading software products and IT services company and was responsible for setting up and running the middle-eastern operations of the company. Upinder started his career with CMC Ltd., where he spent eight years holding various functions in sales, marketing and program management.

Upinder holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from the Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences (BITS), Pilani. He is an avid golfer and a photographer.

Blogs by Upinder Zutshi