Channel innovation is not a new concept. We all remember a time when the only way to acquire a desired product was to visit a physical location. Doesn’t it seem like forever ago? The Internet changed everything. It compelled businesses to adopt the multi-channel model wherein they were required to have multiple outlets in the physical world and on the web. This evolved into the omni-channel model which is focused on creating a seamless brand experience for the consumer across all channels. In this model, offers and promotions have to be coordinated across channels to build loyalty of the “connected consumer” – in other words, a consumer who has continuous access to pervasive computing (wearable technology, laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.).
However, we believe that omni-channel is but a pit stop on the road to pervasive commerce. Businesses are already exploring the potential of the infinite channel model. In the infinite channel world, every interaction with the consumer is an opportunity to “wow” them and reinforce your brand promise and value. LA based cupcake company Sprinkles has installed cupcake ATMs that deliver cupcakes via a robotic arm. Although this is a small period of interaction, the uniqueness of the service creates a special memory for the consumer.
Amazon recently filed for a patent on their “anticipatory shopping” system. Besides their drone technology that has been making the waves, this system will allow Amazon to predict what shoppers are going to buy before they buy it. Products will be packed and waiting in warehouses for the consumer to click ‘Buy’. This kind of innovation that over-exceeds a consumer’s expectations is what will drive the future of infinite channels, and commerce overall.
In an article for the Multichannel Merchant, Jonathan Levitt of OpinionLab predicts two major trends emerging in 2014: the ubiquitous shopper and large-scale retail automation. The “ubiquitous shopper” is similar to the “connected consumer”. The difference is that this shopper will opt-in to a more personalized shopping experience. Consumers who share more information about themselves will allow businesses to send targeted offerings and promotions. Companies will have to tread the fine line between being personal shoppers and creepy stalkers. Nobody wants to feel stalked, hence letting the consumer opt in and maintaining transparency in the use of their information is important to making this successful.
Increased automation will also be significant to the infinite channel retail experience. Amazon is attempting to establish a physical presence with kiosk vending machines. Besides chargers and accessories, the kiosk also sells Kindles. The instant gratification of this process is very inviting but it remains to be seen how effective it is in getting people to buy high-end items like Kindle on impulse.
Services like Uber and Car2Go have made transportation convenient and accessible. By anticipating consumer needs and embracing technology, they’ve made it possible for your next destination to be just a tap away.
But as mentioned before, there is something to this infinite channel experience that will go beyond what just technology will allow. The technology will enable it but it will also require innovation and imagination beyond the bottom line goal. Deliver, satisfy, delight, exceed!