Mobile and omni-channel strategies continued to dominate this year’s Shop.org summit in Seattle (Sep 29 – Oct 1, 2014). Overall, the mood was upbeat, with holiday spending forecasts predicting year over year growth. Although holiday strategies are top of mind for everyone in the retail business at this time of year, we also had an opportunity to think about emerging trends for commerce technology, and the increasing intersection of technology and services to build sustainable online brands.
As a commerce service provider, we think a lot about how technology streamlines and improves brand efficiency and delights customers.
Unfortunately, more options do not necessarily translate to a better experience. We saw a bewildering array of massive feature sets, yet many companies expressed frustration that clients were not leveraging the advanced functionality. The ‘whiz-bang’ is great – but if clients can’t take a disciplined approach to A/B testing, how can they expect to benefit from technology that offers the complexity of multivariate testing? And while most platforms are bolting new features on as fast as the technology evolves, very few companies are taking an integrated business approach to platform development.
As commerce technology matures, we expect that newer, nimbler technologies will offer the most client benefit. Benefits will come in streamlined integration, more robust technology (instead of building on a framework that is 15 years old), and cheaper technology costs. A few years ago, marketing automation tools, referral marketing, and even A/B testing required large marketing and IT budgets to implement. Companies with deep pockets had an edge because they could afford the latest technology. Thanks to cloud-based deployments, lower server costs, and extensive code bases that are widely available, those technologies are now accessible and affordable to all players – regardless of size.
So if the tools are all available, how will tomorrow’s players differentiate themselves? We believe the new competitive advantage for commerce technology will come in three areas: integration, personalization, and user experience.
Integration enables all of the moving pieces to speak to each other, especially for brands operating both wholesale and retail businesses. Separate systems require a heavy investment in staff and reporting to simply manage the business on a day-to-day basis. Integration eliminates the need for multiple system reconciliations and opens up new opportunities with real time data. Brands will demand that their technology systems from all vendors connect seamlessly without the need to mash up data from the web store, inventory management system, fulfillment partner, shipping carrier, etc. as they do today.
Integration will enable brands to have a deeper level of personalization. The ability for a single system to collect all of the data from marketing and logistics systems including emails, product purchase data, shipping data, and post purchase activities such as customer service and returns will allow brands an unprecedented level of customization. Future brands will not require “buyer personas,” they will be able to identify and talk to every customer individually.
Intuitive User Experience and Design
The user interface has to be easy to understand, use and customize to specific business requirements. This is for both the brand and the customer: customer tolerance for slow loading speeds and poor mobile shopping is at an all time low. From a brand’s perspective, clunky email set up, difficult dashboards or reporting interfaces will detract from user adoption. As social selling becomes more prominent, brands require the ability to quickly and easily move into new channels with a contemporary aesthetic whether that is responsive design, or video, or shopping carts on Facebook.
Finally, the evolution of commerce platforms will change the nature of commerce business itself. Although technology can streamline repetitive tasks like transactional emails, advanced shipping notifications, order management and the like – someone still has to do the heavy lifting of setting up and managing these programs. The most robust solutions will empower brands to fully manage their business, or outsource specific functions to expert service providers, while enjoying all of the benefits of full integration.
Just as Shopify revolutionized the way brands could sell direct online in minutes, the future of commerce as a service will be to combine technology and services to build a create customizable business infrastructure that is fully integrated across the entire customer buying cycle.
What trends did you see at Shop.org?