Imagine sitting down to watch TV and you see a shirt on your favorite actor and think, "I want that shirt for myself!" Good news. You click a button and it's instantly 3-D printed at your home. You buy the shirt and receive it within minutes. Feels like magic.
While this type of instant 3-D printing is a ways out, Walmart's Vudu streaming video service just announced you can instantly buy products you see on its interactive shows. It's a great example of "seamless shopping," where the customer experience and marketing converge into one; where any type of friction is eliminated in the purchasing process and instead it's merged with value-added content or buyer experiences that reinforce the brand and drive loyalty.
I was recently asked by a client based in Finland to help them understand the future of shopping. When I do a research project like this, I look for the "weak signals" of today that will become the disrupters of tomorrow. The full report is freely available for download, but I've summarized the key points and findings in this article. What I found surprised me:
Shopping is going away, and at the same time, it's going to be everywhere.
The Three C's of Seamless Shopping
Fifteen years ago, consumers went through about two touch points when buying a product. Today, it's six touch points, on average. The counterintuitive increase in the number of interactions it takes to make a decision and purchase a product speaks brilliantly to the need for a more integrated shopping experience.
Three C's underlie the future of seamless shopping:
- Context -- The setting, environment, or event in which the customer participates
- Content -- Data and information that support the product, provide personalization, and drive the business model
- Commerce -- A transaction involving the exchange of value, usually financial
The holy grail of the seamless shopping experience is the complete blending of context, content, and commerce into one unconscious experience. The integration of these attributes makes purchasing products and services a natural and essentially invisible part of the overall customer experience itself.
Some big companies are starting to get it. The fast-fashion giant Zara, for example, recently introduced an augmented reality app to help customers see what new clothes look like on without trying them on, a self-service checkout, and click-and-collect options on Zara's website. Other companies, including P&G, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, and Danone have all banded together in an initiative called Loop to produce a line of reusable and refillable products sold within an overarching subscription service -- and that literally closes the loop in the customer journey by creating a continuous experience of purchase, use, return, and delivery of a refill.
11 Trends Shaping the Future of Seamless Shopping
The research report highlights 11 trends that promise to make seamless shopping a future reality, all of which advance the seamless integration of context, content, and commerce into the overall customer journey:
- Location awareness
- Mobile-local retailing
- Try (virtually) before you buy
- Voice everywhere
- "Me-tail" and hyper-personalization
- Subscription business models
- Real-time proactive intelligence
- Refilling, reusing, and recycling
- Seamless payments and transactions
- Flexible ordering and pickups
- Automated "delivery drivers"
The traditional customer journey is still relevant, but it will change. Consumers will continue to move through the steps of awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy, but the order of those steps and the importance of each will depend entirely on the context, content, and type of commerce-based experience in which they're engaged.
More and More Startups Sell Seamlessness
A cadre of startups are envisioning and building the future infrastructure to drive seamless shopping as a standard across industries. Taken together, they might turn Amazon into just another online store by giving everyone else incredible new capabilities that help merge context, content, and commerce in new ways:
Afterpay: Afterpay provides small loans to consumers through a mobile app, creating a seamless and straightforward process for consumers to buy products.
Allure Systems: Allure Systems creates augmented reality models of fashion and clothing products that customers can view by scanning a QR code or going online.
Carbon: Carbon is reinventing the way physical polymeric products are designed, engineered, manufactured, and delivered and is shaping the future of 3-D printing.
Clinch: Clinch produces personalized, programmatic advertising based on user data and demographics.
DeepMagic: Powered by A.I., DeepMagic has developed a fully automated way to help merchants run employee-less stores through cameras that monitor inventory and automatically charge customers for any product they take from the shelf and don't put back.
Flexetail: Flexetail is an on-demand mobile retail store that allows brands to build small-format retail solutions affordably.
Flirtey: Flirtey is developing the world's first drone delivery startup. Flirtey aims to make individual deliveries faster and safer by using drone technology.
Radius8: Radius8 helps retailers develop customized websites tailored to their specific location.
As in most things, technology will continue to play an important role as an enabler of innovation. But it's also important to remember that the future of seamless shopping is less about technology and more about removing roadblocks to great -- truly seamless -- customer experiences that tap into trends that help merge context, content, and commerce. That's the future of shopping no matter what you're selling.