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Featured in WIRED – Welcome to the Consumer-Centric Era of Commerce

The following article about the consumer-centric era of pervasive commerce was authored by our Founder and CEO, Sanjay Parthasarathy and published on WIRED Innovation Insights on March 4, 2014.

Not so long ago commerce was destination-based, where a shopper chose to visit a specific physical store or e-commerce site in order to make a purchase. With today’s proliferation of smartphones, tablets, wearable technology, the Internet of Things, and micro-area networks, the way we discover and buy products has been revolutionized. This new generation of technologies enables pervasive computing, which in turn has given rise to the “connected consumer”, a consumer for whom the virtual world is always just a click or tap away.

Pervasive computing is helping usher in a consumer-centric era of commerce — which we call pervasive commerce. With pervasive commerce, consumers will be able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, delivered to wherever they want, in the way that is most convenient to them. In this new era of commerce, every interaction with the consumer — whether it is in the physical world or on the web — will be an opportunity to inform, educate, and buy or sell products and services. Apps, services, and websites will become product-aware and hyper-personalized to deliver the right product information at the right time to the right person.

The explosion of smart technology, social media, and easy access to crowd-sourced and user-generated content is raising consumer expectations with respect to relevancy, personalization and customization of product offers, promotions, and customer service. Brands and retailers are realizing that traditional advertising and marketing strategies no longer move the needle as before.

Innovations in supply chain logistics are also recalibrating consumer expectations. Google and Amazon are trying same-day and Sunday delivery in select cities. Amazon’s testing of delivery drones is already generating a lot of buzz and further raising expectations. The focus here is on instant gratification and exceeding expectations. Along with “buy online, pick up in store” and “free shipping, free returns” some retailers are actually letting consumers try merchandise at home for free before making a purchase.

When brands and merchants recognized that it was essential to have multiple outlets for their products , in the physical world or on the web, they adopted the multi-channel model of commerce. The multi-channel model then evolved into the omni-channel model, which is focused on generating a seamless experience for the “connected consumer”. In omni-channel retailing, businesses strive to ensure that offers and promotions are coordinated across channels, whether it is a mobile device, brick and mortar store, catalog, direct mail, or television. This type of retailing is more customer-centric and requires the retailer to be more in tune with the customer’s needs and preferences by analyzing past purchase behavior, social media affinities, and so on.

However, omni-channel is but a stop on the path to pervasive commerce. We are now moving from an omni-channel to an infinite channel model. In an infinite channel world, every interaction with a consumer in the physical or virtual world will be an opportunity to “wow” them and reinforce the brand’s or merchant’s value proposition.

In an infinite channel world, companies will find new and interesting ways to increase the level of interaction with potential customers. LA-based cupcake company Sprinkles is using curbside delivery for on-the-go customers. The interaction period may be limited, but the uniqueness of the service creates a memorable experience. They also have cupcake ATMs that deliver cupcakes via a robotic arm.

Marc Jacobs’ new store in Manhattan allows users to pay in the form of social currency, i.e. Tweets and Facebook posts, rather than money. Target is partnering with Pinterest influencers to build an e-commerce storefront powered entirely by Pinterest recommendations. In its beta form right now, the ‘Awesome Shop’ highlights top Pins that are updated every day.

Such innovation and creativity is defining the age of infinite channels and pervasive commerce, and is a precursor of the radical change that commerce will experience over the next few years. Businesses recognize that pushing messages on consumers is not only inadequate but also an inefficient use of time and resources.

We are living in exciting times where understanding consumer behavior is a crucial part of the process of messaging and targeting. So, will businesses be able to deliver the right product offer to the right consumer at the right time? Yes, if they combine the deep knowledge about their consumers with deep knowledge about their products and services, and are open to exploring infinite channels, the possibilities are endless.

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