Summer '14 Commerce

June 23-25, 2014 | Salt Lake City, UT

4 predictions for the future of shopping

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The world of commerce has been utterly transformed by the dawn of new technology, big data, and online shopping. Here's a look at what's next.

It's not breaking news -- the world of commerce has been utterly transformed by the dawn of new technology, big data, and online shopping. Brick and mortar brands work to capitalize on e-commerce potential while ensuring their physical stores remain viable. Here's what's in store (no pun intended -- sorry, I couldn't help myself) for the future of shopping.

4 predictions for the future of shopping

You'll shop with your smartphone

In this case, the future is now. Not only are brands using mobile advertising techniques to lure you in, they're also striving to connect with you once you're there, shopping in their store. The ones excelling at this are the ones who have managed to offer something truly useful. Take Walmart, for instance. "Mobile-influenced in-store sales are double that of the entire e-commerce opportunity," says Gibu Thomas, Walmart's senior vice president of mobile and digital, in a recent article in The Atlantic, "Get Ready to Roboshop." Walmart's app can tell when a user is in the store and then surfaces useful shopping tools such as a price check feature that allows users to calculate their purchase total before they get to the register and a search function that helps them navigate the retail giant's sprawling aisles. Brands will continue to work to create apps that add true value to the customer shopping experience and to invest in marketing strategies that encourage app downloads.

Of course, companies will also continue to use mobile targeting capabilities to serve consumers coupons, and based on their ever-improving understanding of user behavior, they will better their ability to project what promotions will actually drive purchase.

The proliferation of customization

Companies have more information on their target audience than ever before. This allows them to better target their audience and deliver information and promotions that are most likely to be relevant to the end-user. But customization expands beyond marketing tactics -- it applies to the products themselves.

"There is going to be a yearning for products that are unique for me -- especially designed for me without costing an arm and a leg," says Laston Charriez, SVP of marketing for the Americas region at Western Union and a speaker at the upcoming iMedia Commerce Summit. "Currently, I can get a custom suit made but I am not going to pay that hefty price tag. That's not realistic. But in the future, you will expect to have a product that is customized to your taste at a decent price with value."

This trend has already begun. Look at the surge in custom sneakers, totes, jewelry -- everything from Kleenex to furniture. Brands are pushing products that help customers showcase their individuality -- the personal brands we are all working so hard to cultivate on social media. Ideally for brands, consumers are sharing their purchases on social media, too. (See point No. 4.)

Stores will work double time to cultivate unique in-store experiences and to keep products in stock

If a customer is choosing to patronize your store rather than purchase from the comfort of their home, they either need the item now or they're looking for an experience. Retailers have to make sure their products are in stock.

"You know that consumer wants immediate gratification or otherwise he or she could order from Amazon and get it in a day or two, so having the product in stock is important," says Charriez. For example, Walmart stands to lose billions due to out-of-stock items.

Customer service will become even more paramount as retailers are contending not just with the competitor down the street but also with online sites that have improved their ability to provide instantaneous support via live chats and shipping items quickly. (Dare I mention Amazon Prime Air?) Shoppers opting to come to the store are looking for immediacy, a unique experience, or even human interaction. Good news for the customer -- shoppers should expect even more unique and pleasant in-person experiences.

Social platforms will continue to cultivate their shopping capabilities

A recent eMarketer article reported that "recent research from Shopify found that Facebook drove nearly two-thirds of social media visits to Shopify-operated stores and claimed about 85 percent of all orders from social media -- a year-over-year increase of 129 percent."

Pinterest also does a great job of seamlessly integrating branded posts into its content, and of making social shoppable. Social platforms will continue to cultivate their ability to drive commerce, and brands and platforms alike will work to take advantage of user generated content. (Check out my article, "Why retailers are struggling to reach online audiences," for more on the role of UGC.)

Overall, it's never been a better time to be a consumer. Brands are working to improve both your online and in-store experiences and to deliver unique, customized products and useful shopping tools. And life is looking pretty good for marketers, too, who have unprecedented levels of data at their fingertips and new, creative ways of engaging their customer base and sharing their brand story.

Jacqueline Lisk is a journalist, editor, and consultant who specializes in content marketing.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Jacqueline Lisk at @JLisk1.

"Businesswoman pressing promotion and shipping type of modern buttons" image via Shutterstock.