Contextual commerce has been a hot topic of discussion for the past few years. Simply put, it is businesses enabling consumers to shop seamlessly anywhere and anytime on any device – the perfect synthesis of people, places, and things. We call this Pervasive Commerce, meaning that shopping would be an integral part of our everyday life activities, rather than being a separate activity. It also implies a precision in targeting consumers with product offers. It’s like how we’ve incorporated Google Maps into our lives today. Don’t you wonder how we ever got by without them?
Commerce was first destination-based. The web and the rise of businesses like Amazon made it digital and more convenience-based. Further innovations in communication technology (smartphones, particularly the first iPhone) made it mobile. Advances in technology combined with advances in how people interact with each other and with brands and retailers (social media) has now made commerce more contextual than ever.
But what exactly does context entail? It is not just about targeting consumers with offers where they are location-wise, or what device they’re using. In other words, it’s more nuanced than running a retargeting campaign. There are several other consumer signals that make contextual commerce a more efficient and fruitful exercise. I met a woman at an event recently who said, “I’m a very different person at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday compared to 10 a.m. on a Saturday.” And this behavioral factor will influence how she will react to an ad or product offer at the given time.
What the above hints at is consumer readiness and mindset. While it’s true that checking out a particular product on a retailer’s website does signal some intent of purchase, simply having that product pop up at every turn isn’t going to cut it anymore. Context needs to be embedded more deeply into consumer psychology, demographic properties, social profiles, and other factors like season, weather, and so on. By triangulating all these different data points with the right product information, businesses will be able to build a more complete picture of context. This would mean that even if a person is a seasoned skier, they wouldn’t be shown ads for skis while they’re on a work trip in Texas, since the context doesn’t quite add up.
Different signals make up the right context. For instance, if you’re a costume store and Halloween is right around the corner, trends in costume search queries form an important piece of your context pie. Here’s a little nugget of data on that from Google Trends.
We’ll be talking more about context in the coming weeks as it relates to commerce and use of technology. Different technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning enable more context-based shopping experiences. In the meantime, do share what a contextual shopping experience means to you.
Also published on Medium.