By Upinder Zutshi
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.