A customer walks into a store, asks for help from a sales associate, and receives personal guidance and advice. There’s no punchline here, it’s just how a good in-store experiences goes - and how today’s customers expect their digital shopping experience to work as well.
The new battleground for e-commerce is experience - and that experience should be as helpful, and personal, as the one your customer receives in-store. Digital has to be the new sales associate. Your customers expect more than just an online webshop; they are looking for inspiration, research, and an overall engaging journey that stays consistent across every device and touchpoint they choose to use.
For your channel agnostic visitors, connecting the customer experience across your web, mobile, social, and in-store touchpoints is the first major step to creating that seamless experience. Of course, connecting all your channels - not to mention all the teams responsible for those channels - can be a challenge. As Dirk Hörig, CEO and co-founder of commercetools (which recently entered the Forrester Wave for B2C Commerce Suites as a Contender), said in our recent Digital Commerce eBook, “Our customers are struggling with all these new touchpoints and new formats for content delivery that continue to pop up, and most of all with their customers hopping back and forth between them, still expecting the same user experience and look and feel across the board.”
So how do digital leaders tackle this cross-channel conundrum? By having an open platform, with a portfolio of APIs that lets you plug-in and experiment with the latest touch points and commerce features. This open architecture allows data to be easily shared, meaning features like pricing, stock availability, and personalization metrics can be shared across the whole experience.
Of course, the online store is moving beyond just a place to purchase. As visitors continue to depend more and more on the online experience to provide inspiration, how-to’s and in-depth product reviews and research, they also expect this content-based experience to follow them across every touchpoint - and be personally applicable to the situation they’re in. For instance, if a customer spends time on your site looking at summer gardening tips, when they check their mobile phone at your brick-and-mortar you could instantly show them the latest flowers available in that store.
How is this fluid cross-channel journey made possible? Data, and lots of it. The increase of artificial intelligence (AI) means that the large amount of collected data is easier than ever to understand, but companies that rely entirely on AI are missing a critical factor of intelligence: yours.
As BloomReach Chief Product and Strategy Office, Will Uppington, told the audience at our recent New York Customer Event: “We believe you cannot achieve the promise of personalization if you don’t use both human and machine intelligence.”
Yes, machine learning can recognize the patterns and trends that let you know how your customers are interacting with your brand, and identify gaps in products & content that can drive more conversion. But your employees - and the years of knowledge and the creativity they possess - is the special sauce that makes your company truly unique. Having a foundation of AI, that constantly learns from your user’s behavior, and using your company’s creative perspective to guide the AI algorithms is the most powerful, and competitive, combination.
Digital is truly your brand ambassador. It should be just as helpful as your best in-store associate. With the rise in data availability, the open platforms that can connect it all, the powerful algorithms to process it at scale and, of course, your company's unique perspective on what a great experience includes, intelligent commerce takes your customers far beyond a simple shopping cart to creating an immersive experience that inspires, helps, and converts.
Photo Credit: Mike Petrucci