The traditional consumer journey has gone through radical changes in the last two decades. With increased connectivity and sophisticated technological advancements, this journey just keeps getting more layered and filled with possibilities fueled by business intelligence, consumer intelligence, and product intelligence. As consumers, we don’t feel the shifts coming. New practices unassumingly become a part of the flow of our lives.
Gone are the days of destination commerce, where the only way that a consumer could buy a product was by visiting a physical location. A sales associate was the only source of product information, whether you were buying toothpaste or a television. That experience is assigned to nostalgia now. Can you believe that the World Wide Web is only 25 years old? Do you remember a time without it? Do you remember a time when Amazon only sold books?
Almost two decades ago, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, and others started paving the way for online shopping. Consumers found exciting new ways to discover and buy products. With the growth of the online marketplace, brands and retailers found themselves making their products accessible through the web. Even at this multi-channel stage, consumers had to seek out the physical store or the website in order to make a purchase.
Then came Web 2.0 and the smartphone. Cue drastic shift in shopping behavior and tendencies. Web 2.0 saw the rise of social media communities and user-generated content. Brands and retailers became our “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Social media gave the consumer a voice and the power of virality. A bad consumer experience now has the potential to be broadcast globally within minutes.
In other words, brands and retailers can no longer control their own story like before. The consumer’s voice is indispensable. 71% of the American population owns smartphones, and that number continues to grow. This has instigated the push for personalization and customization of product offers.
We’ve seen the focus shifting from the seller to the buyer. Just as a brand or retailer’s control over their story is unpredictable, so is their control over where and how consumers encounter them. We are now living in a completely consumer-centric era. Any business that thinks otherwise will be left out in the cold.
Businesses now meet consumers where they are, on the devices that they use, whether it is a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Wearable devices, interactive storefronts, virtual reality devices are all being added to the list of devices that facilitate interaction with products. And on these devices, the possibilities of where a consumer will interact with a product are many. It could be on a social media platform, website, app, marketplace, search engine, or a social shopping network like Wanelo. The options are endless, creating what we call an infinite-channel world.
Just in the past year, the push to sell through all these new channels has been tremendous. Twitter started testing their “Buy” button last year and is planning to roll it out to the general public soon. Just a few days ago, Pinterest announced their plan to introduce a “Buy” button so consumers never have to leave the scrapbook-like channel to make their purchases. Late last year, over 200 brands partnered with Wanelo to start selling directly through the social shopping app.
This validates the redefined nature of the consumer journey. Commerce is becoming pervasive. The touchpoints at which consumers can interact with products are increasing every day. Product intelligence will enable companies to embrace these channels at scale and provide accurate and consistent product information.
Businesses should never forget that the consumer is channel-agnostic. As a business, their job is to ensure that product information is coordinated and consistent across all these various channels so that the experience is seamless for the consumer.
Say I’m browsing online at home for a tote bag. I spend some time looking at a product but don’t buy it. I go to work the next day. While walking to work, what if I’m passing by a store that carries the tote and I get a push notification to tell me that the bag is available there? Will I check it out? For sure! Based on my relationship with the brand and the data they have about me, they can send me a personalized offer that will be make it almost impossible for me to not complete the purchase.
Such personalized and contextual experiences that will define the next phase of shopping. This is made possible through the power of product intelligence, i.e. real-time access to all the data about a product – price history, the stores at which it is sold, availability, promotions, shipping information, sellers, brand, images, descriptions, videos, specifications, attributes, tags, facets, etc . A recent online retail forecast report from Forrester Research projects that online retail sales will grow 57 percent, from $263 billion in 2013 to an estimated $414 billion in 2018.
Watch this space to know more about how product intelligence is going to help businesses deliver personalized experiences and further redefine the consumer journey.