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The year of the customer: 2018 commerce predictions

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At the end of last year I was asked to give my two pennies worth on the big commerce trends that I expect to shape the industry over the coming 12 months for our Greenlight 2018 Predictions Magazine. I thought I would share them here and would love to know if you agree or disagree!

Below is a quick overview of my five predictions covered in the article.

  1. Experience is the product – products and experiences are becoming one.
  2. Customer recognition – how technology & data are changing customer recognition at an individual level and as well to look at mass behaviours.
  3. Next best action marketing – artificial intelligence (AI) will consider the different actions to be taken for a customer and select the best one.
  4. Defending market share against Amazon – the need for brands to be niche to compete.
  5. Marketplace 2.0 – the marketplace of the future will extract data from a variety of retailers and curate a personalised view for the individual.

Experience is the product

In March 2017, the CEO of clothing retailer Next blamed poor sales figures on a generational shift among British shoppers. He warned shareholders that customers were moving away from buying ‘things’, and instead were spending more of their money on ‘experiences’.

Over the course of 2017, we’ve seen a number of businesses respond to this shift, and 2018 is going to see a growing focus from retailers on ‘experience’, not just product. This concept has been coined experience is the product’ by author and experience design executive, Peter Merholz, wherein products and experiences become one.

Apple was one of the first companies to understand this, but the majority of businesses now recognise that customer experience is as important as the product. Every single customer touchpoint is an opportunity for building loyalty and advocacy.

To achieve this, companies need to have a single customer view – something that many businesses have been striving for and investing in for several years.

Modern, fully integrated business applications are now making it possible for businesses to get a single real-time view of their customer, and we’re going to see this evolve to the next level where a customer will be instantly recognised at any touch point.

Customer recognition

As retail applications, such as responsive face recognition, are becoming more advanced, accessible and affordable, we’re going to see retailers offer more interactive and personalised experiences

Next generation digital billboards are already using personalisation and big data to display one of a number of adverts, taking cues from age, gender and expression; and, in China, diners at a KFC restaurant can now pay by scanning their face.

Technology isn’t just changing customer recognition at an individual level – it’s also using satellite data to look at mass behaviours. Some retailers are already using this to help forecast revenue by understanding and monitoring the amount of traffic at their stores.

As this data becomes more affordable, it’ll become more common for retailers to track customer movements.

Next best action marketing

Linked to these trends, I expect to see accelerated growth in ‘next best action’ tools.

These use predictive analytics to consider the different actions that can be taken for a specific customer, and decide on the best one.

That might be giving the customer a particular offer, or it may be recognising a set of products they’ve bought and offering them bespoke services; or perhaps it’s ensuring they get the appropriate responses back via a chatbot. Companies such as Boxever are doing this successfully in the travel industry today, and I expect them to become more prevalent in retail in the coming year.

As such, technology is going to be the missing piece of the puzzle that provides the complete customer experience that retailers are seeking, and that they’re beginning to recognise as being equally important as the product itself.

Defending marketing share against Amazon

All of these trends come down to the fact that retailers are having to defend their market share against the powerhouse that is Amazon. There’s no question that Amazon’s offering has prompted shoppers to demand more from retail in general.

To compete, brands must be niche to differentiate. It’s very much about what retailers can do to offer a specific experience that isn’t possible for a juggernaut of Amazon’s size.

A retailer that’s doing this successfully is Sigma Sports, a specialist cycling shop, which began in 1992 as a single bricks and mortar store, and has transformed into a rapidly growing multichannel retailer.

It’s quickly built up a loyal clientele by providing an offering that’s built around delivering great service, selling the right products, and remaining exclusive. To that end, it’s unstocked some of the mainstream brands from its store and replaced them with niche brands from Australia and Denmark.

It’s also installed a personalised bike fitting service in its store, which has proven so successful that it’ll shortly be adding a second. Cycle events that start and finish at its store also enables the retailer to engage with its customers and deliver an experience, not just sell a product.

Marketplace 2.0

Finally, we’re also going to see an evolution of marketplaces. Microservices are giving retailers the ability to build discreet technology services that allow their businesses to take certain elements of eCommerce systems; as such, marketplace 2.0 will likely be an amalgamation of existing data or marketplaces.

Some examples of this are new solutions being built by retail intermediaries or affiliates where they enable building a virtual wardrobe from multiple retailers without those retailers being aware of their products being in a new channel.

This extends to building a listening service to monitor certain products to know when prices may change and where to buy them; or being notified of where certain influencers are buying certain products and being able to get discounted purchases based on who you’re following.

This evolution will change the marketplace as we know it today from being a platform where you go to buy something to one that extracts data from a variety of retailers and curates it in a specific view for customers at an individual level.

So, while there’s no certainty in what the future will hold, I have no doubt that 2018 is going to see the boundaries pushed in how data is used, personalised and exposed to enhance the retail experience, while providing interesting opportunities for some retailers to really stand out from the crowd.

 This post was originally featured on Kevin’s LinkedIn, and is republished here with permission.

Kevin Murray
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January 12, 2018
Kevin Murray

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