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Customer Engagement & Commerce Game Changers

Gone are the days when customer service was taking a back seat and smart push marketing was enough to drive sales. Today, shopping experiences go well beyond a logical assessment of available alternatives, rather, they have become guided and emotional activities. Therefore, on top of integrated marketing execution, delivering proactive customer service and interactive experiences has become imperative for businesses to remain in the game and drive sales. Women, for instance, who comprise 63 percent of all online buyers, now look for an interactive relationship with brands in addition to convenience. It is no secret anymore that companies need to shift from preventive and reactive customer service to a proactive model so they can create a high-quality customer experience and a long-lasting customer loyalty.

Thriving in customer engagement that drives sales requires the right technology that can scale and a comprehensive strategy that can meet ever-increasing consumer expectations. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss five game changer technology trends that shape the future of commerce.

Voice-Activated Assistants

Conversational systems have been identified by Gartner as one of the top strategic technology trends for 2017. Yet, many more enterprises have started making strategic bets on conversational, bot-powered services as the next vehicle for business interactions to drive better customer and employee engagement. Even Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella has once famously said: "It's technology that's inevitable," and referred to the development of chatbots as a way to create “conversation as a platform.”

This technology is definitely a game changer, especially in the commerce world as it is changing the way people interact with computers and digital businesses. To put this into perspective, in the future, traditional commerce sites powered by monolithic platforms will become today’s print store catalogs. In fact, Gartner predicts that 75% of US households will have smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home by 2020. As you all know by now, this IoT-connected, voice-activated, convenient and efficient household assistant is capable of ‘doing’ commerce with a simple vocal command while turning off lights to save energy at the same time.

In the future, as Progress’ CMO Loren Jarrett told CMS-Connected in an interview, these new emerging channels will be embedded into the process of how we are doing everything by explaining: "The sensor in my fridge will know what food I am running low on so based on all the big data out there about me, my health needs, and my food preferences, the right food will be automatically delivered to my door, at a time convenient for me.” She also contended that we will conduct a meaningful conversation with our fridge through the voice-activated interface, giving an example of a potential conversation: “Hey Loren, you wanted 1% milk last time, but I know that usually, you like the whole, so what do you want to do today?”

Messaging Apps

As far as customer engagement goes, another important game changer tied into conversational systems is messaging apps, as they are becoming even more popular and sitting in the center of those conversational systems. Although in 2008, with the explosion of brand mobile apps, so many brands launched their own apps but this trend seemed to settle in.  Today six of the top 10 global apps are messaging apps, used by 1.4 billion people worldwide and growing by 12% annually. Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger are leading the pack. Therefore, building a bot with messaging apps do not only make brands' experience available on all channels that Messenger incorporates with but also removes the friction of your users having to download one more app, on top of all the apps they already have and may not use.

When it comes to apps, I am, personally, amazed by the success of China’s voice-powered mobile app WeChat as it has taken off to the tune of 800 million active users every month. The platform can hail a taxi, order takeout, buy movie tickets, and even customize a retail purchase according to your needs. Over 10 million businesses in China have WeChat accounts. WeChat includes ten million third-party apps. Almost any brands from media companies, banks, celebrities, brands, or startups can make an app on WeChat. Individuals with accounts can access APIs for features like direct messaging, voice messaging, payments, and location. Andreessen Horowitz's Connie Chan says: “WeChat accounts have become so popular, some startups even test their apps by launching on WeChat before creating a standalone app.” More importantly, one in five WeChat users purchases products or services from any official account in WeChat's app by sharing their banking information or credit card number. Even though the US and Europe still lag behind China in terms of social commerce platforms, the situation is about to change as many more technology providers are making enhancements to their platforms to support social purchasing. For instance, with its latest upgrade, Oracle enabled marketers and merchandisers to customize responses during the conversations powered by an Oracle-connected chatbot on Facebook Messenger or Amazon Alexa.

Live-Streaming

Live streaming is one of the catalysts that is rapidly changing the way people interact online. Even though this technology hasn’t taken off in the West just yet, injecting live-streaming into commerce has generated very lucrative results in China despite the fact that Chinese consumers still have a strong distrust of e-commerce brands.  To give an example, last year Alibaba live-streamed an 8-hour fashion show on Singles' Day to better engage customers. During live-streaming, the e-commerce giant enabled consumers to buy the latest designer clothes in real time before the show even finished. Currently, China has 300 live-stream platforms. Another impressive result came out when Maybelline used a live-stream platform to announce Angelababy as its newest ambassador. As a result, within two hours, it sold over 100,000 lipsticks.

No matter if it is in a live or on-demand format, shoppable videos are great influence drivers as they blur the line between moments of inspiration and actual buying. How it works is that consumers are able to click on the product that appears in the video to purchase it right away. Some social media platforms such as YouTube have already adopted this trend whereas Facebook is also rumored to be exploring shoppable video ads.

Google is also rolling out in-store visit measurements to YouTube video ads soon. With the new enhancement, Google will share local store hours, directions and product available in the store just after commercials on YouTube. Google ran a test for this particular feature last year, and as a result, nearly a million people visited Wendy’s and ordered a square-shaped hamburger or some nuggets after viewing the commercials on YouTube. Google expects to see a significant increase in advertisers’ margin with utilizing this feature as Virgin Holidays claims that a customer purchasing in-store after clicking on a search ad is also three times more profitable than an online conversion.

Online-to-Offline (O2O)

In the first three months of this year, 2,880 store closures were announced, and there have been nine retail bankruptcies in the U.S. Even though there are many factors behind U.S. retail store closures and bankruptcy, arguably the most significant one was the fact that the number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, meaning that a bubble was created and it is time for that bubble to burst. However, a recent Synchrony Financial report suggests that it is not the end of brick-and-mortar stores but a huge transformation is pivotal, citing: “People are social by nature and will be drawn to gathering places to share ideas and be entertained. It’s not just about making money. It’s about building trust. Retailers who tap into this trend will be rewarded.” That’s exactly where an integrated commerce strategy that includes bringing the physical and digital world together comes into play.

As digital transformation continues to engulf everything in its path, opportunities and challenges will equally get off the ground. Eddie Machaalani & Mitchell Harper, CO-CEOs of BigCommerce said: “By 2022, brick and mortar retail spaces will be little more than showrooms.” In a Forbes CIO Network post, Machaalani and Harper predicted that the shopping mall as we know it today will be much different 10 years from now, saying: “Instead of loading up carts with goods to purchase in store, consumers will try on or sample the products in store, quickly scan and purchase items they desire, and have them delivered to their homes within hours.” To back up this prediction, Ebay, ModCloth, Walmart, and Delta Airlines, for example, have all experimented with pop-up storefronts to use brick-and-mortar opportunities to advocate for their digital experiences.

With the advent of technology, it is now possible to bring convenience, ease of use, personalization, process simplification, and the high level of comfort to the storefront through a smart dressing room where customers can create a profile with their phone number, a fully-tailored experience that recognizes the items that were tried on in the dressing room, which ones were purchased and which ones were left behind, or through  “memory” mirror technologies led by RFID tags to let customers try on virtual outfits and place iPads in fitting rooms enabling customers to ask for help, read reviews, see what sizes are in stock, and so on.

Emerging technologies are not just limited to delivering sophisticated customer experiences as they also provide marketers with data that will help advertisers understand whether their online marketing campaigns actually lead to offline sales by measuring the relevant contribution of every single touchpoint along consumers' paths to purchase through implementing advanced attribution tools.

My POV

In light of these emergent technology trends, investing in mobile, video content, conversational systems, social advertising, and digital storefronts seem to be a huge help for forward-thinking businesses that want to remain with or ahead of the curve over the next 5 to 10 years. Even though many of these fields are immature, they have already started to come to fruition in specific regions and industries. Regardless of technology strategy used, the focal point is delivering frictionless contextual experiences through all channels and devices. In today’s and more importantly, tomorrow’s market, to accomplish this mission is only possible if businesses go beyond the web to create new touchpoints.

Venus Tamturk

Venus Tamturk

Venus is the Media Reporter for CMS-Connected, with one of her tasks to write thorough articles by creating the most up-to-date and engaging content using B2B digital marketing. She enjoys increasing brand equity and conversion through the strategic use of social media channels and integrated media marketing plans.