Online shopping: Retailers will have offer the human touch on the web (Wired UK)
This article was taken from The WIRED World in 2016 — our fourth annual trends report, a standalone magazine in which our network of expert writers and influencers predicts what’s coming next. Be the first to read WIRED’s articles in print before they’re posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online.
For decades, business was all about competition — enterprises operated under the principle that they needed to find and exploit a competitive edge to survive and there could be only one winner. Businesses big and small would use any advantage they had. In 2016, however, there will be a shift: the most successful businesses will be characterised by collaboration between businesses in the same sector, different sectors or with their customers.
Innovation in technology has fundamentally changed the way businesses function and work with each other. It’s no surprise, then, that the nature of competition has changed, driven by companies expanding their offerings along with diversifying and innovating in new sectors. Technology giants such as Google and Amazon are constantly moving into new areas. Who could have predicted that a search engine would be pioneering driverless car technology 17 years later? Or that an e-commerce bookshop would now be selling everything from furniture to fashion and testing drones for deliveries?
This blurring of boundaries means that businesses, especially online ones, no longer occupy one sector within a single set of competitors. Competition comes not only from the other players in your space, but from those in other sectors who see an opportunity. This can be viewed as a threat, or people can collaborate and create a bigger pie for everyone to have a share of.
“If a reader sees a Chanel top in a magazine and it’s not yet available to buy online, the magazine should communicate directly with Chanel and find it at no extra cost”
This doesn’t mean that competition is dead — far from it. Businesses should be their own greatest competition and be willing to disrupt themselves before someone else does. That was the thinking behind Net-a-Porter’s launch of The Net Set social network in May 2015 — to move the store to where people are heading. When Net-a-Porter launched in 2000, its mission was to bring fashion to women at their desks or home through online shopping. Today, in the age of social media, it’s about joining the conversation and the communities that share online.
Social shopping is rapidly gaining momentum. Platforms from Instagram to Pinterest influence how consumers discover items and spend their money by making e-commerce about more than dropping items in a virtual shopping cart. Consumers can shop with friends, and have a personal dialogue with the brands they love. This evolution is making it possible to collaborate in a much more meaningful way.
Businesses working together is only one aspect of this increasingly collaborative economy — the consumer is best served if we collaborate with another supplier and directly with her or him. Fashion has moved from a one-way conversation where designers and magazines told the consumer what to buy to one that invites the consumer to shape the conversation and empowers them to make their own buying decisions.
For example, if a reader sees a Chanel top in a magazine and it’s not yet available to buy online, the magazine should communicate directly with Chanel and find it at no extra cost. That might sound like sending profit elsewhere, but in fact it’s a win for everyone involved. The customer is happy because she has her top and will no doubt return to the magazine. And Chanel is happy because the magazine has connected the retailer with a customer. In today’s world, we need to collaborate to be able to compete.
In 2016, this will grow ever more nuanced and natural: it’s important that e-commerce firms do whatever they possibly can to reduce the friction between customers and their desired product or service.
“That human touch, so often missing when we shop online, will become more present in 2016 as new technology dissolves outmoded business models”
We are finally at the point where retailers can analyse and act upon the huge amount of data that customer interactions create. In its simplest form, this is what everyone has been calling personalisation, but it could be so much more. Amazon, for example, made huge waves with its Anticipatory Shipping patent that predicts which products consumers will buy and ships them to a nearby hub, anticipating the purchase. Innovations like these tap directly into what people want: immediate, exceptional and personalised customer service that goes beyond marketing.
The early days of e-commerce were blighted by confusing, cluttered and unfriendly user experiences. Crucially, digital businesses lacked the intuition and basis common sense that a well-staffed bricks-and-mortar shop offered. That human touch, so often missing when we shop online, will become more present in 2016 as new technology dissolves outmoded business models. This new age of immediacy demands a rethink of this approach, especially as technology now caters for whatever we want at the tap of a screen. Competition creates win-lose scenarios, but collaboration benefits us all.
Originally published at www.wired.co.uk on February 17, 2016.