Re-Imagining Commerce for our Experience-Driven World

During my childhood there was no blockchain or crypto currencies – hard to believe I know – but there was also no wearables or virtual assistants. No tablets, digital signage or beacons. No smart devices, cell phones or even personal computers. And, I don’t know about you, but when I was at school there was only one Amazon – and it was a rainforest we learned about in books.

Of course, today’s kids have another Amazon, which allows them to stream entertainment, buy items with one click (much to their parents' chagrin we can imagine) and browse/search through hundreds of millions of products. As companies like Amazon continue to make commerce easier, more convenient and fun, even those of us who believe we’ve exhausted online activity will find ourselves engaging more in the experience of it all.

“Commerce” no longer means just buying something, but rather an entire journey from research to purchase to recommendations and beyond. In fact, paying too much attention to conversions alone often blinds organizations from other powerful engagement opportunities that exist throughout the entire customer journey.

Walker Sands recently published their annual global consumer study (sponsored by Episerver), and the results as usual were eye-opening. Some 63% of people now shop online at least once a month; 23% at least every week; and people in the UK every 30 seconds. OK, that last one was a joke, but the UK is number one in the world for online purchases.

Yet the most striking finding for me was that incomplete or incorrect content dissuades a massive 95% of consumers from completing a transaction or finishing a planned journey. By looking at another finding, it is easier to understand why. When asked, “What is your usual primary purpose for visiting a brand’s website or mobile app for the first time?” The survey found that searching was highest at 35%, comparing was 29% and purchasing just 17%, which means that 73% of first-time visitors to digital properties are looking to get educated versus 17% looking to buy. Consumers miss out on the education they seek when information is missing. 

In other words, experiences matter, which is probably why 1/3 of those surveyed have experience with emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies like smart mirrors, voice-activated assistants, in-store tablets, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), with as many as 90% saying they would be happy to do so again. Say it with me, “They want an experience!”

For these reasons, claims of “Retailggedon” miss the mark even with accountancy firm PWC indicating nearly 6,000 shops closed in the UK in 2017 and a net loss of 1,700 new shops the same year. Of course, there’s also hardly a day that goes by where we don’t read about the decline of American malls and closure of Sears and Macy’s stores.

Still, the off-price retail sector for the most part continues to flourish, pop-up stores defy long-term leases and our high streets are not disappearing but rather transforming as traditional retail makes way for the experiential economy.

In practice, what this often means is that as a bank branch closes it’s more likely to be replaced by an artisanal boutique or concept store, where shoppers are encouraged to experience something in person. However, it’s impossible to deny the effect that digital commerce is having on bricks and mortar and will continue to have in the years ahead. Many organizations today are born online but for most retailers, digital commerce is still considered just another store and often contributes 10% or less of gross merchandise value (GMV) according to widely cited industry standards. This is changing – fast. The challenge to this is often more about how to reproduce the in-store experience online than anything else, but that’s what successful brands do – and valuable, compelling, individualized content is a huge part of it.

Walker Sands’ survey of 4,000 consumers found that 87% of us are now comfortable sharing information about ourselves online (9 in 10), but only in exchange for a better customer experience. Yet, one third of us still feel that brands just don’t care enough about personalizing our experience. It’s time to close the gap.

According to Boston Consulting Group, in three sectors alone – retail, healthcare and financial services – personalization will drive a revenue shift of $800B to the 15% of companies that get it right. By contrast, that same amount is likely to be spent on technology integration in 2018 (some 22% of IT budgets) by those organizations whose technology integration challenges continue to slow their digital transformation efforts.

It can be a challenging time to provide experiences, personalize journeys and meet startups head on, and the human element is being forgotten in the mix. It’s one thing to digitally transform and introduce new and potentially disruptive business models, but it’s another to understand your area of exclusive human expertise. As a United Airlines’ frequent flier, for example, I can interact with them online 90% of the time, but it’s the human interaction when needed that wins my loyalty. It is not always a zero-sum digital game, and you can’t deliver a world class customer experience if you don’t have a deep understanding of the entire customer journey.

At Episerver, our aim is to help speed up an organization's digital maturity, and to make it easier for them to elevate their customer experience. We help brands and retailers, as well as many B2B organizations, non-profits and associations and financial services institutions, bridge the online and offline more effectively by making digital a more important part of their overall strategy.

We do this through what we call “Experience-Driven Commerce,” which is not so much a product but a way to embrace the experiential economy head on through the combination of advanced technologies integrated seamlessly into a single yet powerful platform in the cloud – married with the proven services of our certified partner ecosystem – so your organization can move at the speed it needs to.  

Without trying to compete on price, availability or margin, companies can compete with inspirational experiences that move beyond focusing on just conversion and technology to experience and expertise.