It’s Friday night. You’ve ordered Indian takeaway food, but you feel like having a beer and a bowl of (peeled) cashew nuts while you’re waiting, and you’re not sure if there are any of those left in the fridge or the cupboard. You’re very comfortable wrapped up in a blanket (although you’d like another one made of a more comfortable material) and you already had to get up before to phone the restaurant. You hit the cushions on the sofa: why can’t things come quickly to us when we want them on Friday nights?
After taking your frustration out against the cushions, you take a look around you: no, there’s no butler who appears after having been attracted by the commotion, and holding a tray with beer and nuts. Your only private butler is still on the table where you left it after insisting on buying yourself Tandoori chicken: your mobile phone. No cosmic cats, nor spooky artificial intelligences. The most similar thing to the future just now lights up and vibrates from time to time, inviting us to open videos of kittens.
And the thing is that smartphones haven’t actually caused any new and harmful behaviour among the population of users. Neither has ecommerce supposed any betrayal to the future of the human race when convincing it to consume more and more rapidly. The reason why the smartphone and ecommerce have merged so easily with our essence is that we were already capricious from the start. People like immediacy and to satisfy their impulses with a click: they like magic. If science (or technology) ends up being indistinguishable from magic, the best tricks will end up being used to the liking of the majority (or the majority with money and smartphones).
Where we’re going, we don’t need roads: Buy and sell in the cloud
The ecommerce boom reveals that users prefer to stay wrapped up in the blanket on the sofa due to comfort, laziness and surprise, surprise: common sense. In the future, each person will drive his or her own ship or flying vehicle. We won’t need guides or nuisances, as we will have everything incorporated. When customers who are used to e-commerce visit a physical shop, they do so to validate a decision that was already made by browsing the internet, not because he or she needs information or advice from the shop assistant. They have already seen and heard hundreds of descriptions, reports and reviews on the product, but they are still lacking the real experience in a way that we continue in that point of convergence between e-commerce and buying goods in shops.
To buy is no longer an activity, it’s a reflex action incorporated into other activities. Increasingly more users, who are integrated into online life, are covering their needs at the time they arise or when they remember them, during other tasks and in any place: a hole or rip on their trainers while they were preparing for a marathon, or a dentist appointment after a filling fell out while chewing on popcorn in the cinema. And the thing is, according to the expert in luxury marketing and branding, Gregory Pouy, thought and behaviour habits have changed: digital customers are informed and connected, they have high expectations, motivated by objectives, and have a lower and non-linear attention capacity.
Do we act in a different way because our technological dependency increases, or does technology make it easier for us to behave in the way that we have always dreamed of? Whichever the order of the factors may be, the reality is that, according to reports on usage for the near future, the number of mobile devices connected to the internet in the whole world will go from 10 billion to 34 billion in the year 2020. This is a colossal amount, and it’s just around the corner.
In this situation which changes quickly, the ecommerce concept starts to lose its fame against traditional commerce, as the online and offline are merged into a multichannel field where everything must be interconnected and where users feel that the transfer is fluid: ucommerce has arrived, which means obtaining anything, anywhere and at any time by means of using different devices, or in other words, a unique and universal ubiquitous commerce that occurs in unison.
In a galaxy far far away: Technological Magic applied to ecommerce
Without us stopping to imagine the alternatives which are still too futuristic for our day-to-day lives, the businesses which are presently showing more conversion allow digital use before the purchase, as well as during the purchase and in the shop. To buy online and pick up items in the shop is a common option, which still isn’t offered by all ecommerce businesses that can allow this method, but the contrary option to this is becoming more and more successful, which is to go to the physical shop where just a showroom is offered for someone to help the customer choose the best size, which will then be delivered to their address. This model means less money is required to spend on storing stock in a shop and to rent premises, which may be much smaller, as the brand Bonobos has shown (they schedule appointments like an Apple Store). The most common are the displays that allow you to buy what is not stocked in the shop (like the iPads in lots of franchises), but it is still important to offer physical merchandise to cover the psychological need of feeling satisfied by taking away something physical, whereas leaving with just the receipt of an online purchase doesn’t provide the same reaction.
Ecommerce must use its secret weapon in the form of expectation, rather than immediacy. The delivery times will be increasingly quicker (not only due to the delivery services during the day, but because of the possibilities in the future for the use of drones). So, intelligent websites must follow the success models of platforms like Netflix: to remember the consumer’s previous purchases or searches, in order to tailor what will be shown and which may be of interest to them, or to take it a step further by offering them an app with a personalised and live service for their shopping, like the one developed by the Nordstrom chain.
As soon as users become accustomed to receiving something when they want it, they won’t need to open the brand’s website, or even a purchasing website, and this speeds up the process. That’s why brands must place themselves beyond the most exploited channels nowadays, as users won’t even bother to visit their website or app in the future. This explains the popularity of the subscriptions packs, offering a minimum delivery while no time is lost deciding what will come with them: from packages of books and monthly payments for a catalogue of audiovisuals, or music, to crates of seasonal fruit and vegetables from the area.
Besides these, the complementary transformations to ecommerce and traditional commerce are also included, such as payment methods: mobiles are not the new cards and wallets — they are even the new banks. Shops, and even online shops, will have to adapt to accept these methods and compatibilities with devices which allow a more instant payment that includes private data from smartwatches to iBeacons installed in physical shops that facilitate contactless payments, and to receive discounts, free publications and recommendations, according to the section of the shop where the client may be.
They Came From This World: Devices that will change traditional retail and ecommerce
In practice, all these changes to the framework of the shopping experience will be reflected in new machines, devices and functionalities of which digital commerce must be attentive. There are always unbeaten tracks for carrying out tests, and maybe the upper hand may be gained over the competition that continues on the sofa with their comfortable and conservative e-commerce blanket.
Smart Electrical Appliances
Perhaps that sofa you hit desperately will instantly order the cashew nuts and beer for you in the future, but there are presently other domestic assistants with a future in ecommerce.
For some electrical appliances to make orders in the name of the customer implies new agreements between manufacturers, distributors and brands. Will the electrical appliance companies make deals with the most powerful platforms like Amazon, or will they open a supply network to which any small or large brand may be added? The second option seems particularly fairer, seeing how Amazon has already developed their own technology to create Amazon Dash buttons, which apply the idea of the need to buy in the place where you need it: just by pressing the Amazon button stuck to any surface or wall in the house will carry out the automatic order of a product. The drawbacks are that one button per product is necessary, they only offer certain main brands, and customers never check price fluctuations of products in this way.
On the alternative of electrical appliances placing orders to any brand or shop, there are machines beginning to appear which are programmed to detect the minimum levels of products and request to replenish them, such as the Whirlpool washing machine that detects when the washing detergent runs out, or the Samsung fridge which, in collaboration with an app designed by MasterCard, lets you make different orders through a touchscreen mounted on the door. For this network of electrical appliances to allow the incorporation of independent ecommerce businesses will be the great challenge for the future.
The smart fitting rooms don’t only make things easier for shoppers – they seduce them to make more confident purchases. Desire isn’t enough, so it’s accompanied by a pleasant feeling without regret, and there’s no worse enemy for that than the mirror.
In physical shops, virtual mirrors are now in use that superimpose layers of digital images over the customers reflection by using devices like Microsoft Kinect, plus an interactive surface that lets you see how the garments fit without having to undress or change the lighting, which is a big influence factor in the sale. The Neiman Marcus chain successfully tested their MemoMi Memory Mirror, which makes it easy for customers to change the colour and the print on the garments that they are trying on, and they can see themselves from every angle thanks to a 360º recording. For the time being, these controls are carried out using an app on the customer’s mobile, or on a tablet, but the idea is that eventually everything will be under control by using hand gestures just like a magician.
Those scenes in science fiction films like Minority Report are not so futuristic or magical now where the characters are questioned by advertisements on billboards that know their names, likings and weak spots just by a simple scan. IKEA placed a mirror that flattered people with a high level of personalisation when they walked in front of it, and in C&A in Brazil, clothes hangers showed the number of likes that garments have in social networks. Now, the purchase won’t be private between the customer and the shop, as it is based on all the social proof data that allows validation of the customers’ choices, and offers them instant recommendations.
The interactive concept is the key, either with total strangers or with closely linked people whose opinions matter. The website for bridesmaid dresses by Weddington Way offers the creation of a private showroom in which the guests and the bride can suggest and vote for different dresses. Kate Spade set up a pop up store in Manhattan with an interactive shop window, allowing passers-by to choose something they liked, and then to order it for same day delivery.
Either for mulling over many alternatives or for giving in to a spontaneous fancy, digital interaction favours the purchase of indecisive and capricious shoppers, and serves as publicity for brands, thanks to the possibility of instantly sharing the purchase in social networks, by means of a text or a photo.
Shopping without the presence of a shop assistant is ideal for many shoppers who have a phobia of a personal service, or if they are in a hurry. After customers starting to scan bar codes for themselves at the till, or while taking items from the shelves (like in Wallmart), the next step is for the shop to recognise what customers have picked up and then discount the total from their bank balance as they go through the shop door. Amazon Go experimental shop in Seattle (and they’re planning to open a new one in Central London) has been the first step to this kind of future which is still causing controversy.
The strategy applied to intelligent websites will also end up being adapted to the physical experience, in a way that ecommerce and traditional shopping merge into a very similar practice. Several sensors on the shelves will be able to register the customer’s movements and place alerts on their shopping for suitable promotions, to light up the kind of products they are looking for (like vacant spaces in the car park), and to receive recommendations for complementary products without wasting time going round the aisles without signs. Galeries Lafayette, for example, now offer a geolocator for orientating yourself inside the store, and this is a useful function in large shopping centres which are of course not mapped by Google.
Both the devices (the glasses) and the application technology are still expensive, but when the use of these is extended, they will allow a very reliable and three-dimensional experience of how products are seen before ordering them. Some shops offer those wearable devices as a shopping gadget, but their greatest application will take place from home, and through online shops.
Without leaving the living room and without the brand taking the risk to display their merchandise in a physical and public place, anyone can work out if the furniture will be suitable (still a basic IKEA application), to try on jewellery (an option now offered by Boucheron), or cosmetics without having to spoil the make-up that you are already wearing, or the need to clean the samples from your skin afterwards.
Much like the fitting rooms orientated towards clothing, virtual reality will facilitate users to personalise their products, which is a secret weapon for the future. Tesla Motors have now shown a prototype in Toronto by means of an interactive screen that allowed to design the ideal Model S: what is still a game nowadays, will be en essential tool in some years to come for digital shopping, as well as in-person.
As we always remind you, the perfect product information never stops improving. The old commerce model made do with offering the public some merchandise for them to choose, but nowadays shops have to adapt their catalogues to new user demands, and many of these new demands emerge from the sofa on Friday nights.
It’s a reality right now to see photos on Pinterest or adverts that let you select something seen on screen and then offer the option to buy it (which is also the case with interactive mannequins in physical shops), but this practice will soon be applied beyond promotional audiovisual pieces and will go as far as entertainment. You just need to pause or press the screen to be redirected to the product (although this also entails standardising agreements on if this will take users to the brand or to a platform with which a mutually beneficial agreement is signed between the supplier of contents and the brand’s operative system, for example).
Since product placement is a daily reality, so why not take advantage of it at the time of the craving? Clothing will be the least direct because it’s based on exclusive wardrobe designs, but the service will immediately look for something similar with several price options, saving endless searches with keywords. So, say La La Land is in fashion and men and women may want some shoes like those worn by the main characters. The screen will allow links to these products and therefore the catalogues must also be continually prepared for these new trends, by entering keywords in their descriptions, for example, like dance, tap or swing shoes. This will change and affect the way in which information is gathered for SEO.
How many times do customers go round a shop without finding what they are looking for, and then not know if they might have more luck finding the item in another shop? Geolocalisation (through the mobile’s IP) lets you know about where the product you are looking for is stocked, and where there are discounts and offers based on the user’s tastes in places nearby, by means of push notifications. In short, the competition becomes fierce inside and outside the physical shop, and only those traders who set up a strong relationship between their physical shops and online strategy will manage to become well placed.
Presently, common practice is to find this personalisation in unwanted publicity like Facebook or YouTube, but when it is well focused, it may be applied in response to requests made by users themselves and turn into that private butler who is so longed-for.
We already know that increasingly more shops like Amazon are using an automated basis, even in distribution tests by means of drones used for poorly linked areas or with difficult access. But the dreaded prediction will come true, and robots shall stop being invisible to the public to work side by side with humans.
For now, they make an attractive headline for the sections of technological news, and are a gadget used in press conferences, such as Pepper, the robot by the Japanese company SoftBank Robotics, or Chip, designed by the Spanish company PAL Robotics. But beyond the amusing news, Pepper is being tested in two Californian shopping centres, as its software allows it to understand human emotions from body language and facial expressions, so it can interpret what customers need or want to hear. It’s the same base idea as the IKEA mirror, but with that sympathetic humanoid way which is appealing to interact with, as it doesn’t seem threatening, nor does it hide dishonest sales intentions unlike some human sales assistants. Will we end up trusting robots more than humans?
Chip, which is used in Australia, has a less naive design and is a response to the strategy of creating mobile information points placed around the shop or shopping centre to use at the customer’s disposal. This technology is also being applied to smart shopping carts that navigate round the aisles, guiding customers directly to products on their shopping list, processing their payments, and anticipating which aisles they will prefer to visit in the future, according to all the shopping and visits in different shops which have been saved. They don’t stop being processes that are already used in ecommerce, but they are transferred to the physical experience in a way that one another end up being indistinguishable and share the same advantages.
These automations will be as essential for physical purchases, as they are for the management of online catalogues. Each time, customers will want to lose less time in the process and stop thinking of minor decisions and repetitive acts, like looking for products. In any field, robots will store thorough knowledge of the stock and their location in the shop and the warehouse, and will automate tasks like gift-wrapping, to send discount coupons, to warn when shelves are empty or when products are misplaced, to stock shelves, and even observe customers who intend to steal items. These automations are now commonly used in e-commerce: the tasks regarding information which humans find very tedious to process, and involve a lot of time and error are automated by software tools like a PIM system.
There are many Sillicon Valley companies developing robotic prototypes for these achievements, carrying out tests in ‘secret’ shops and gathering positive data to the dismay of many opponents who see a threat to cheap and highly rotational jobs. But much like e-commerce, automation involves other advantages like favouring customers who have restricted access or mobility.
Perhaps all these trends will come to nothing. Who has heard talk of Google Glasses anymore? But it’s good to know about your enemy, even though they think we’re still taking a nap on the sofa, under the blanket. Are you getting ready for the future of e-commerce?