Two major events over the past few weeks focused their agendas on the future of retail: Shop.org’s Annual Summit and the Altimeter Group’s Rise of Social Commerce. Here are some of the key trends that emerged and our takeaways:
Trend #1: Seamless experiences across platforms
Technologies are beginning to break down the walls between online stores and their bricks and mortar counterparts. Retailers are eager for greater integration between platforms. The Altimeter Group calls this “Frictionless commerce.” Technologies and user experiences that were highlighted include:
- Geo location (passive and active) so that retailers and recognize you in-store before you reach the register.
- Mobile experiences that are relevant wherever you want to shop, e.g. providing m-commerce outside of the store and price comparison tools and coupon options within the store.
- Shopping with friends online in a way that is as satisfying and effective as the group shopping experience in-store. Wet Seal and Levi’s are retailers who has been testing heavily.
- Facebook becoming a commerce platform – potentially competing in the future with ecommerce platforms like IBM WebSphere.
Key Takeaway: While some of these technologies are early stage, enabling people to use an existing social identity on any device will be a key element of unifying the retail experience across platforms, giving retailers a powerful way to link data and systems.
You can read Citigroup’s POV on this topic: Citi Takeaways From Shop.Org Annual Summit – Increasing Focus On Mobile & Social Commerce
Trend #2: Personalization
Up until recently personalization was limited to making recommendations to site visitors based on their previous shopping and browsing activity. Now retailers are looking to enrich that experience for shoppers by applying both friend and profile data, including Open Graph or “like” information. Amazon, with their enormous scale, is already applying this data, and Diapers.com is testing the use of customer “like” data to personalize the site experience for shoppers and enrich profile information in consumer product reviews. (Side note: Businessweek ran a cover story this past week on Diapers.com challenging Amazon.com’s dominance) Modcloth is taking a different approach to personalization, soliciting customer opinions directly to determine assortment, effectively creating a “Store of the community.”
Key Takeaway: Tapping into customer social profile and social graph data – technology available today – will be a key competitive advantage for retailers in the coming year.
Trend #3: Game mechanics driving loyalty and rewards programs
Some of the most successful social companies have user experiences based on game mechanics theories – think Zynga, whose viral growth is due in large part to tapping into human desire for progress and status in a social context, and who spoke at the Rise of Social Commerce event about successfully selling a very large number of limited edition “Virtual” diamond rings for Valentine’s day at $65 per (virtual) ring!
Retailers are starting to take note about these powerful insights into consumer behavior in order to apply them to the shopping experience. Loyalty and promotional programs of the future will no longer be limited to just rewarding purchasing behavior, but will also include driving word of mouth referrals and brand engagement. Rewards for key behaviors may include discounts, but may also emphasize public status (mayor of) or special treatment (early access).
Key Takeaway: Online retailers should begin to “gamify” by rewarding desired social behaviors today. They can identify their own key influencers (who is sharing the most, who is driving the most referral traffic) and treat those people in a way the benefits both customer and retailer.
Trend #4: Optimization
While brand social campaigns – as one-off experiences – can be difficult to Optimize, retailers are recognizing that there is enormous value in refining the social aspects of their user experiences. At the Altimeter event, Sinan Aral, a faculty member in the Information, Operations and Management Sciences department of the NYU Stern School of Business and MIT, shared a recent experiment on how information diffusion in massive online social networks influences demand patterns, consumer e-commerce behaviors and word of mouth marketing. What does that mean? In a nutshell, he looked at the effectiveness of generating a high quantity of word of mouth referrals vs. a smaller number of higher quality word of mouth referrals. The result? A smaller number of higher quality word of mouth referrals yielded new users who were more likely to become customers, i.e. stay engaged over a long period of time rather than just a single visit.
Camille Lauer, Director of Social Innovation at Hallmark, presented how the company is using Facebook Apps as a test bed for on-site implementations of social experiences. Facebook apps require a smaller investment than a full site deployment, so learning there before building it into your own site user experience is an effective form of on-site social optimization. Eventbrite has been tracking the value of a shared item (to Facebook, Twitter and over email) in terms of ticket sales, and has been able to raise the $ value each shared item contributes to their bottom line by optimizing the social elements of their user experience.
Key Takeaway: Just as retailers apply web analytics to optimize their site user experience, they need to apply social analytics to drive value from the social elements that are integrated into the shopping experience.