Depending on the country you live in, up to 30% of total sales revenue is made online and as many as 70% of people regularly do their shopping online. As these numbers keep growing, we wonder whether the advancement in technology will one day be the end of actual stores. What’s next for e-commerce and how will it change the way we shop? A critical perspective.
Do you use your mobile device for shopping online? No? Really? So you’ve never bought anything via, say, the Amazon app, compared prices online, looked for more info on a planned purchase or quickly looked up something you saw advertised and put it in your digital shopping cart to buy later? Because all of that counts – even using a digital shopping list kind of counts, depending on who you ask.
Anyway you look at it, however, the way we shop has developed greatly over the last ten years. Before online shops came into existence, we all physically went to the shop that had the product we needed and bought it. If you were a little more adventurous, or felt really sure about your purchase, you ordered from a catalog – on the phone or via mail (not email, the real thing). And that was that, no other choices were offered. Then, we all got computers, but most of us still went to the shops, because we either didn’t have the ability to make payments online or we didn’t quite trust that they were secure. But over the years, we learned to trust the many forms of digital payment and now it doesn’t really matter much, what device you use to go online (that is, it doesn’t matter much when the design and experience is consistent, but I’m coming to that later) and we can do our shopping anywhere and whenever we like.
Of course, that’s still not the end of the road. Many predict that mobile commerce paired with augmented and virtual reality applications will be the way forward. The most radical predictions even tell us that physical retail locations will become obsolete and printed catalogs will die with them. But me, I’m not so convinced about that last part. Sure, I think AR and VR are definitely the future. Actually, no, I think they are the present – they are already used by many retailers with great success. I just don’t think that analog and digital are mutually exclusive.
Analog OR Digital?
Despite all digital advancements, we’ve continued to print catalogs, brochures and the like. Why? Because they have certain advantages over digital marketing materials – they are something tangible that you can hand or send to your customers, they look good and they are in your customers’ homes, so they keep coming back to them. Then again, digital advertising has a few advantages of its own: it is more accurate, more flexible, can be personalized and updated much quicker and more easily.
Luckily, there is no real need to decide on one or the other. As long as there is a unified customer experience over all your channels, you customers will usually find their way to the cash register, be it in analog or digital form. However, there are things you should do in order to make sure it is actually your cash register they are finding and that is optimizing the customer journey.
The Customer Journey
Let’s imagine the following situation: I’m sitting at home with my printed catalog, which I enjoy flicking through now and then. Something catches my eye and I really want to buy it. Now, if you offer an app and I have it on my phone, that’s where I might look first. Of course, the app doesn’t know what I want to find, so Iaboriously type in the article number – no results. Ok, that happens – I try a few keywords, but still have to look through multiple pages to find the item I want. Suddenly I’m less interested – it was a bit expensive anyway. If I still want it later, I might check the web. Later that day, as it turns out, I do still want it, so I go online on my laptop. Now, I could, of course, head straight to the online shop, but because I’m lazy, I google the product. Now, while I get the search result I need, I also see that the product is offered by a different retailer and not at the same price, so I do a quick comparison. While I do that, I get a message on a social network and that’s me sidetracked. After a long time of messaging back and forth and approximately a hundred cat videos, I have all but forgotten I wanted to buy anything at all.
Long story short, there were gaps in the customer journey which was supposed to take me from the catalog to the cash register. As many as 87% of people use multiple devices simultaneously and are online pretty much constantly, one way or another. Therefore, it is to be expected, that your customers will use more than one channel to look at what you’re offering and the transition from one to the other should be as seamless as possible. So how practical would it have been, if my app had known what I was looking for? Not possible? Augmented reality makes it possible – that and a few other cool things.
Bridging the Gap
With augmented reality, which is based on image recognition, you can quickly link from a catalog page to the respective item in the online shop or app. But what’s more, you can also present your products in 3D or offer additional video and information content. Better yet, it is also possible to offer dynamic prices for certain customer groups or at different times of the day. This amazing technology gives you the power to update and personalize large batches of already printed products. And let’s be honest, apart from being a huge time-saver for your customers, it’s also a lot of fun.
With augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality (which is really a mixture of the two), you can visualize anything from furniture and whole houses to things like clothes, jewellery, cars or huge machines. However, some of those are things which I at least will never buy online or from my mobile phone. A nice home, a great car and cool clothes are all things that I want to experience for myself, before making a purchase I might regret. But using digital technologies to get a feel for the thing greatly helps me to narrow down my choices.
Therefore, my prediction is this: Using Augmented Reality to close the gap between analog and digital media will be an important part retail strategies in the future. I know, it doesn’t sound as snappy as the more sensationalist slogans out there, but it might actually be realistic.
If you like to know more about augmented and mixed reality and how they can add to your business, just drop me an email. I’d be happy to hear from you.