Mavatar CEO & Co-Founder / Forbes Contributor Writer
Streamline & Control the Path to Purchase Over a Single Platform Powered by Blockchain
Sandra Bullock is looking as great as usual (how is she 54!) in the new Ocean’s Eight movie, and you’re especially drawn to the jacket she’s wearing in the in the scene with Cate Blanchett at a diner. After the movie, you and your friend both agree it’d look cute on you for your cousin’s birthday party tomorrow night, so you two start googling for “Ocean’s Eight Sandra Bullock Jacket in the scene with Cate Blanchett at a diner.” What else you could do?!
A bunch of maybe-relevant results come up and they entertain you and friend for next hour, but you don’t buy anything. The mobile screen is too small to tell if the jacket is really right, and toggling between tabs makes the whole process rather confusing. Plus, most of those sites are showing you irrelevant results. You get home, log in to your computer, and start all over because your touchpoints, your phone and your computer, are disconnected. Hours of computer browsing later, you find a lookalike on a shady website. You try to find discounts on coupon sites — none of which actually work — while welcoming “cookies” left and right that’ll try to sell you jackets for the next 1,000 years! Finally, you find yourself in the checkout page. However, after entering your credit card information, the site informs you that it takes at least 7 business days for shipping!
After all that, you won’t even be able to wear the jacket to tomorrow’s party.
This is the modern path to purchase today — windy, complicated and with too many distractions.
Omnichannel Isn’t the Answer
Every time the modern consumer makes a purchase, they embark on an endeavor that crosses between the online and offline world with multiple touch points and decisions nodes. A Google study noted that consumers consult more than 12 sources before making a holiday purchase. And, a whopping 97% of consumers check the internet before buying something. Numerous factors, touchpoints and entities influence consumers while they navigate the path to purchase.
To remedy this dissatisfying and fragmented retail experience, many “marketing gurus” (an all too popular phrase) have proposed a new form of retail to unite all these steps on the path to purchase: omnichannel commerce.
Omnichannel commerce is the idea that consumers should have a unified commercial experience that seamlessly transitions between the physical and digital world.
Omnichannel commerce is a great start for bringing retail into the modern age, but it lacks scope because it only pertains to the activities of one business. This fails to acknowledge one of the most important facets of modern commerce, the overwhelming number of options that all compete for the consumer’s attention.
Take for example one of the leaders of creating an omnichannel world, Neiman Marcus. The department store won the 2017 Innovation Retail Technologies Award for Customer Engagement for its pioneering omnichannel ideas. Neiman Marcus has implemented some fascinating ideas, such as their use of Memory Mirror, a computerized mirror that lets customers digitally try on new outfits without actually putting the clothes on. Consumers save their Memory Mirror activity to their own devices and share it on social media as well.
While omnichannel ideas like the Memory Mirror are truly innovative point solutions, they still fail to capture the retail experience as a whole, constituting all the points of influence involved in the path to purchase. Omnichannel commerce assumes that consumers have their whole shopping experience along a straight course, from discovery to purchase.
However, the reality is that modern consumers consult multiple retailers, touch points and solutions to find the best fit and deals, and their purchasing decisions are based on all kinds of factors, from the affirmation of friends, to social and traditional media like Instagram personalities and celebrities, to where, when, how and at what price they can buy something. As great as any current omnichannel experience may be, they all fail to incorporate these other points of influence along the path from discovery to transaction.
Cross-Pollination: The Key to Moving Past Omnichannel
Retailers and marketers need to share data with each other to make omnichannel commerce a reality.
Aaron Levie, Founder and CEO of Box, and Theresa Miller, CIO at Lionsgate, at HITS Fall 2018
Box Founder and CEO Aaron Levie and and Lionsgate CIO Theresa Miller emphasized in a “fireside chat” on the main stage of Hollywood Innovation and Technology Summit (HITS) Fall 2018 that big tech is acknowledging the need for increased collaboration and sharing.
Aaron pointed out the industry needs greater collaboration, “Apple and Microsoft might compete to the death on operating systems, but one minute later Microsoft realizes they have to build software for Apple because Apple has a million devices that they want to get in front of…The industry is starting to change and that’s an exciting trend that we’re seeing.”
Businesses need to share their data to accommodate the the reality that there is more to be gained by collaboration than what Aaron calls “proprietary lockdown systems.”
In my view, to do even better than omnichannel retail, it would require connecting tens or hundreds of point solutions, players, touchpoints, concepts and business models using an “integration platform as a service” (IPaaS) that brings different entities together to create, transfer and distribute values.
Leveraging these integration layers, we can move beyond omnichannel retail to what I call cross-pollinated commerce, in which all relevant parties share data and work together for their mutual benefit, while ensuring consumers a better experience throughout the entire path to purchase.
The need to share and collaborate is especially true in the retail sector because the shopping experience is incredibly fragmented, as consumers must maneuver back and forth between the on-and-offline world, with multiple websites, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar locations, and layers of influence and information that all drive the shopping decisions.
If all these actors could work together and share their data and the value they are creating to make a more unified representation of the entire retail landscape, not only would the consumer have a better experience, but also retailers would better understand their customers, advertisers would know which of their methods actually drive sales, and influencers could track their influence to sales dollars and get compensated fairly.
Cross-pollinated commerce, not just omnichannel retail, is the real solution we need to collaborate with each other given the reality that modern commerce is built upon the ability of consumers to cross between on-and-offline worlds.
Cross-Pollinated Commerce in Action
In a quest to learn more about cross-pollinated commerce, I headed to the SHOP.ORG 2018 conference in Las Vegas, hosted by the National Retail Federation (NRF). The proliferation of point solutions was beyond my expectation, and I had many illuminating conversations.
Michael Colaneri, Vice President of Retail, Restaurant & Hospitality at AT&T, was particularly enthused about the potential of cross-pollinated commerce.
AT&T has already become a leader in omnichannel retail, with the majority of customers purchasing in-store, even though they begin shopping online. Michael is totally sold on the idea of taking things a step further, and consolidating commerce on a singular platform. He said, “consumers will benefit greatly from a consolidated singular ecosystem, where all the constituencies of the value chain have solid reasons to work with each other fairly and transparently.”
According to Michael, cross-pollinated commerce fits into the modern retail-consumer relationship, which emphasizes time-efficiency. He said, “omnichannel magic happens behind the scenes of the supply chain, where we focus on fulfilling customers’ needs and minimizing friction or the consumers’ steps to purchase. Traditional retail’s focus was formerly to bring the customers to the store and to hold them as long as possible. Longer dwell time historically translated to a larger basket and more sales. However, this is no longer the case for busy modern consumers! Consumers today are more inclined to repeatedly visit retailers who offer an ‘in-and-out model’ that addresses their needs in the most time-efficient manner.”
“While the world may be more submerged in data than ever before,” Michael added, “information is often put in silos, which can prevent the creation of a unified view of a true consumer-centric, omnichannel experience. Poor management of all the data flows can also create potentially misleading business intelligence. The cost and value of all this data can conflict.”
Michael added, “the connectivity between retailers, the media and advertising platforms now allow highly performance-driven, targeted and quantifiable interactions with consumers. Deeper integration across these mediums can create richer experiences for marketers and consumers, closing the gap between offline and online along the entire consumers’ path to purchase (discovery, consideration and transaction) and changing the way people shop, sell and advertise. Outdated marketing metrics, such as simply generating or beefing up online or in-store traffic, won’t necessarily translate into meaningful sales dollars in the modern age. However, combining data from response-driven advertising and customer satisfaction metrics can improve store traffic and sales conversion, creating value for consumers and retailers alike.”
In his time integrating point solutions with AT&T, Michael has found, “when we work with retailers, many grapple with the cost of and return on technology while others seek to differentiate their market experience with the most cutting-edge technologies. However, if the true objective of technology integration is centered around CUSTOMER, technology integration benefits outweigh the costs.
Based on this experience at AT&T, Michael recommends businesses enter the cross-pollinated world by, “bringing point solutions together and integrating them at the platform layer to meet the needs of consumers, retailers and other relevant parties at the same time. Taking the complexities of technology to the background is the best way to make a seamless yet modern consumer experience. Point solutions address only one challenge at a time. In multiples, all these point solutions can create entirely new management overhead. To control costs, a cross-pollinated omnichannel platform with centralized integration is the best option I’ve seen to address business and consumer concerns, while also remaining strong in the very competitive market for consumer mind-share and dollars.”
Kiran Mani, Managing Director of Retail at Google, at SHOP.ORG 2018
Kiran Mani, Managing Director of Retail at Google, gave another solid analysis of the need for data aggregation. He said businesses must, “move from information to assistance. They must provoke the action, helping consumers process information. Advertising was traditionally based on exposure, but now personalization will drive an $800 billion revenue shift. Learning how to translate information to assistance can help deliver better customer experiences.”
I also had the chance to speak with Suzanne Miglucci, President and Chief Executive Officer at jewelry distributor and manufacturer Charles & Colvard about cross-pollinated commerce. In addition to this retail experience, she was also formerly the Chief Marketing Officer of Channel Advisor, a cloud-based e-commerce software company. Her current position on the retail side of e-commerce and her former time with a technology company have made her a champion for the strategic alignment and integration of information technology with business operations.
These experiences have also made her a staunch opponent of operating in disconnected silos. She says, “if my marketing team wants to show look-alikes of Meghan Markle’s ring in an Instagram post that links to a product landing page, we should be able to do so quickly and efficiently — without the intervention of IT.”
She believes technology that isn’t a plug-and-play commodity won’t be able to respond dynamically to evolving retail and marketing environments. Suzanne strives to see all the point solutions she is using compiled into an integration layer that brings forward critical and actionable data, while pushing the complexities of technology to the background.
All of these industry leaders’ complaints result from the disconnectivity of the modern retail environment. Michael noted that too many point solutions create excessive management overhead, difficult-to-track data and confusion for consumers. Kiran advocates moving towards an advertising model that helps consumers on the path to purchase. Suzanne says the proliferation of point solutions, and the difficulty unifying them, create headaches on the back end.
I’ve worked for the last 7 years on mCart platform, a cross-pollinated solution that would resolve these complaints by creating an ecosystem that brings together the needs of businesses, consumers, and content creators. I can attest that keeping everything on a single platform reduces the headache of integrating disparate and disconnected point solutions for businesses and creates unified user data for advertisers. To make our platform work well for everyone involved, we employ cutting edge technology, like blockchain payment systems and on-site advertising that uses AI, all of which is serviced to our users from the cloud. Such a solution also removes fees, redundant back office works, operating costs and, most importantly, the confusion of switching between platforms for consumers. All relevant parties benefit from the cross-pollinated and collaborative experience that a platform like mCart can provide.
Conclusion: Back to Bullock
So let’s go back to the example of the Sandra Bullock’s jacket in Ocean’s Eightfrom the beginning and see how the mCart blockchain and cloud-based solution could create cross-pollinated commerce and improve the experience for the shopper, the seller, and everyone else along the path to purchase.
When you and your friend decide you should buy the jacket, if the producer of Ocean’s Eight and the jacket’s retailers worked together with distributors, celebrities, advertising agencies, wardrobe people and technology partners like us to create shop-able content, the viewer could quickly find all the products featured in the film.
The film’s producer could upload all the featured products showcased in the film, including the jacket you want, in an mCart and get commission for the sales the movie drives from retailers, and then distribute that commission among all involved parties using blockchain.
This opportunity can be created for any content creator, including social media influencers. Everyone can get in on the action by posting shop-able content. When followers buy based on their engagement with posted content, the influencer can get a commission on the sale. Meanwhile, retailers enter partnerships with mCart by signing on to a smart contract on blockchain to connect their goods, like that jacket, with the platform’s shop-able content. At the same time, these retailers are saving million of dollars by foregoing objectiveless push advertising. And, you, the movie’s viewer and retailer’s potential customer, could see where to buy the jacket on-and-offline, compare it to similar items, view coupons and utilize the platform’s many other features.
All these interactions and transactions are taking place on the one platform, which would create trackable data from the moment you start searching, say by scanning from a mCart QR code posted at the end of the film, to the final purchase itself. The data is cross-pollinated among all the relevant parties the entire time.
You don’t lose weight with 10 Gym memberships!
The entire mCart path to purchase has been possible by working with technology partners. Consumers can communicate with retail stores sales people via a third-party solution we integrated with, retailers can see the data and push more incentives to consumers through an AI-based CRM platform we are also partnering with and the content creators can get into real-time generated smart contracts with their retail partners made possible by another partner. Our AI-based analytics and CRM system, which is enabled by another partner, makes it easy for our customers to get information from a highly integrated database on a frequent basis by asking questions and receiving simple answers that they can take action on within leveraging system’s CRM component. We are hosting our cloud-based platform on Google, have worked with Facebook and other social media to make social sharing of the mCarts possible at one click and have integrated with all the retailers and content creators to let everyone logging into one single platform to communicate, in addition to generating and distributing value among themselves. Everyone only has only one dashboard and one invoice, and we keep making the technology integration smoother and more painless to the point that all these constituencies deal with each other only through user-friendly user interfaces — not lines of codes they need to have a technical team integrate!
The way all these current points solutions work is like getting 10 gym memberships to try to lose weight. If you don’t have the time and the bandwidth to go to those gyms (and who would these days?), you’re just wasting money and not losing a pound.
The mCart platform, on the other hand, is like those diet pills you see on daytime TV if they actually worked. While the world may not have figured out a turnkey solution to transform weight-loss dreams into reality, mCart’s IPaaS creates truly cross-pollinated commerce, making the retail experience more efficient for consumers, quantifiable for retailers, and profitable for content creators.