by Benoit Soucaret, CXO at Merkle Experience & Commerce, UK
The world of retail is changing rapidly. From social commerce to live streaming, the Metaverse, and Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), nobody would have thought these things would exist 15 years ago. Younger customers, in particular, are seeking true, human content creators who share what they love in creative, exciting ways. Window shopping of the past is no more, and social commerce has become the norm in its place.
Major companies have taken the lead by debuting digitally in the Metaverse. Walmart, Nike, Adidas, and Zara are just a few names that come to mind as we move into the next generation. Many businesses will be attempting to play catch-up throughout the course of the upcoming year, rushing to imitate the strategies used by today’s innovators rather than creating a new vision for commerce.
Most businesses want to lead rather than follow. But before we can chart a course for future-forward commerce, we need to know where we are now.
Think outside the box
Today’s commerce experience is homogeneous and unremarkable. Everything looks and behaves the same — often in the name of efficiency, with Amazon leading the way in efficient but often uninspiring commerce. Brands cannot and should not want to compete with Amazon on efficiency. Differentiation is grounded in the ability to be unique, different, and truly surprise their consumers.
An over-focus on optimisation has resulted in the death of brand-specific differentiation and creativity and ignores the need for personalisation and customer journey mapping. Whether online or in-store, there is much more that can be done to provide a great experience by making it fun, playful, unique, and exciting.
What tomorrow looks like
The future of commerce is about being real, part of the community, and most importantly, acting in real-time. For example, if a brand sees that they are being talked about on social media platforms, they must get in there and be part of the conversation right away.
It’s all about people coming together to talk about the things they want to buy, and then linking it to entertainment and live shopping. TikTok has already started by partnering with brands such as Walmart and American Eagle, to create live shopping experiences that engage the community in a very entertaining way – more about having fun than pushing products.
Similarly, Nike recently launched its Nike By You shoe customisation lens to drive increased engagement with the Nike app and generate membership sign-ups. Following its success in the US, Nike has expanded its lens to other parts of the world.
Metaverse, meet virtual reality commerce
Right now, Metaverse shopping is more of a customer engagement and brand-awareness strategy, and less of a profit-making venture. But its future lies in attracting revenue and building community.
Will the Metaverse prove capable of offering unique and multi-sensory experiences? It remains to be seen. Whatever the metaverse becomes, the important thing is that it is sparking much needed conversation about what the future of digital experiences. However, it does have the potential to provide community shopping, bringing virtual shopping to already-popular virtual worlds. For instance, Forever 21 partnered with social gaming platform Roblox to allow consumers to set up their own stores in ‘Shop City’. PacSun offers virtual clothing items for sale in the Roblox Avatar Marketplace and Gap Inc. collaborated with digital artist Frank Ape to create NFT versions of Gap clothing called Gap Threads sold on Tezos.
Online 3D experiences will also mean more wearable devices, and we could see smart eyeglasses to form part of our daily life to interact and shop. Hand-held controllers will persist too, but in a small number of use cases. In some cases, the future of interface design is already here. For instance, people like voice interfaces because they allow for speed and efficiency. And, while technologies like VR have been primarily associated with gaming, expect to see more of these to provide immersive and entertaining experiences, the same way AR is becoming the new normal in today’s commerce world.
Staying put is getting left behind
Platforms like TikTok have demonstrated to us that we should quit obsessing over trends and best practices. The key is to own the customer/shopper connection and develop it via fantastic, unforgettable experiences and innovation. Personal data is what counts most. However, the future also revolves around finding inventive solutions to customer problems. Progress is opposed by comfort.
At its core, everything revolves around creativity and customer understanding. Everything is focused on community, utilising the creative community in a real way, and bringing like-minded individuals together. The need for deeper connections with others will determine how people purchase in the future. It all comes down to building your tribe, participating honestly, and serving as the hub of your community – on whichever platform they come together.