Nothing is impossible. This dictum has penetrated through every aspect of our existence, including the way we buy and sell things. The harmonious marriage of commerce and technology has rendered all things magical and wonderful. In pervasive commerce, every – and we mean “every” – interaction with a consumer is an opportunity to “wow”, inform, educate them, and sell products and services. And when we say it’s every interaction, it implies that there are innumerable, countless, or rather, infinite ways in which to reach consumers. It’s the age of infinite channels.
Commerce is not destination-based anymore. A business doesn’t have to wait for a consumer to seek it out as a brick-and-mortar store or website. With the advent of the Internet, single-channel commerce was replaced by multi-channel commerce where businesses found it necessary to have multiple outlets, in the physical world and online. That model then gave way to omni-channel selling where brands and retailers strive to coordinate offers and promotions across mobile devices, e-commerce websites, and physical stores.
Omni-channel is fast transitioning into an infinite channel model. The number of touch points through which to reach consumers are now infinite – smartphones, tablets, laptops, iBeacons, wearable devices, social media platforms, interactive storefronts and apps, virtual stores, etc. The possibilities are endless. Let’s look at some of the innovative and creative ways in which businesses are reaching out to consumers.
South Korea is home to the world’s first virtual store. The supermarket chain Homeplus displays their goods on a screen in a subway station. Consumers use the Homeplus app to scan the QR code, and boom! The item is delivered to their doorstep on the same day.
eBay rolled out interactive display screens on some store windows in NYC to sell the Kate Spade Saturday clothing line, allowing passers-by to buy items easily with just a few taps. The goodies would be delivered to their doorstep within an hour. What a great way for an online only business to connect with shoppers! Also, by incorporating shoppable windows, they introduced a whole new way in which to reach potential consumers, not to mention opening up the possibility of using virtually any public surface to sell products. People in a mall may be there with the intent or browsing or buying. But they are always looking for captivating experiences.
And how about a cupcake dispensing ATM? Sprinkles cupcakes offers the option of having your cupcake delivered by a robotic arm at one of their “ATM” locations. Not only are they offering a one-of-a-kind experience, they are inviting people to share it. Their website lets you submit photos of yourself at the ATM, thereby creating an engaged community.
Creating a community around superior customer experience will be crucial to success in the new age of commerce. One of the most potent ways in which to do that is through social media channels. Vogue has made its Instagram feed shoppable through their LiketoKnow:It feature. When a subscriber “likes” an Instagram with an LTK link in the caption, s/he is sent an email with a link to purchase the item. This type of affiliate marketing will be ubiquitous in pervasive commerce, and not just limited to social media platforms. Whether it’s your favorite blog, online magazine, newspaper, anything can be turned into a product offer.
Coming back to social media commerce, Lolly Wolly Doodle is an example of a children’s clothing brand built exclusively on transactions made through Facebook. This amazing business based in North Carolina makes customized clothes for children. All that shoppers have to do is ask for it on the brand’s Facebook page.
Geo-fencing and iBeacons are also taking big steps in making shopping easier. Many businesses like Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters, and more recently Walgreens are updating their shopping apps to be iBeacon compatible. This way, they can send relevant offers to consumers when they are in the stores. When combined with consumers’ shopping history, this can become an extremely effective channel to send hyper-local and personalized deals.
Epicurious has an app that consumers use for storing recipes and shopping lists. They have integrated the beacon into their experience to make it feel like there’s a person guiding shoppers through the aisles. They are using the technology to make it easier for people to tick things off their shopping lists by alerting them about items as they walk through a supermarket. It allows them to target the right customer with the right content at the right time at the right place. Bertolli is doing the same through NFC-enabled mobile devices, and getting relevant content to the consumer right there in the olive oil aisle.
Companies like Bonobos and Williams-Sonoma are re-purposing traditional marketing tools like catalogs to entice customers. It’s not just about having functional catalogs, but lavish spreads that inspire people to buy. The catalog essentially functions like a window display giving ideas and encouraging people to visit the website.
In a previous blog post, we talked about the various companies out there working with image recognition software. This is very popular especially for apparel. Businesses are building product-aware apps that provide information about products in real time, giving detailed data on price, promotions, deals, related products, etc.
The days of single channel commerce are long gone. Multi-channel is outdated and omni-channel is fast evolving into the infinite-channel model, where really, EVERY interaction with a consumer is an opportunity to engage and sell products. The main challenge here, as it is with omni-channel selling, is that prices, offers, promotions and deals have to be coordinated across the different channels. Consistency is the key to success. If there is will, there will be a way!