News & Views

Opinion / Shopper Expectations in an age of Pervasive Commerce

by Contagious Contributor

Phil Dearson, head of strategy and user experience at Tribal DDB, on integrating digital experiences into retail and entering the age of pervasive commerce

When we think about the integration of retail and digital it's worth noting that people all over the world have long been integrating their retail and digital experiences, often in an ad-hoc manner, with the tools they have available. But retailers are typically not leading this integration.

As a society we've lived with ecommerce for over a decade. You could order a delivery from Pizza Hut online in 1994. That was back in the good old 20th Century. With Amazon arriving in 1995, it's now hard to imagine a time when we couldn't buy online. And a whole generation has known nothing else.

Shoppers today have a set of quite reasonable expectations about what their retail experience should be like. But these are largely un-met by physical retailers. We expect to be able to compare prices; read reviews from other customers; enjoy a personalised service and tailored recommendations; to know whether something's in stock in the size we want. We're used to having a range of delivery options that fit our busy lives. 

Yihaodian, the Chinese ecommerce business, already provides same-day delivery for its customers. When Amazon manages to provide this much-anticipated service, our shopping expectations will evolve again. Yihaodian also plans to roll-out 1000 Augmented Reality-only stores, avoiding the overheads of a physical store but still delivering a customer's purchase the same day, satisfying impulse buyers.

We've entered an age of Pervasive Commerce. As smartphones and tablets proliferate we expect to be able to browse and buy wherever we are. Technology enhances and accelerates our retail experience. Verdict Research estimate that 80% of the population will use mobile for at least some part of the purchase process by 2016.

For retailers there is an opportunity to merge their digital ecosystem with the digital ecosystems of customers. As data passes through these merged systems there's a mutually beneficial opportunity to embrace Contextual Automation. This concept, alluded to recently by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, permits the automation of service provision based on context: who am I; where am I; how did I get here; what time is it; why am I doing what I'm doing (I ask myself that one a lot!); how much should I pay...

There are some retailers and services heading in this direction. Orbitz travel drew some attention last year when it was suggested its algorithm was pushing more expensive hotels to mac users. Burberry is famously bringing elements of its online experience into its Regents Street flagship store. Hointer's denim store in Seattle removes the need for human staff altogether, opting instead for self-service via smartphone and robotic delivery to the fitting room. Wrapp has a social gifting service that drives people from Facebook to physical stores. NeoFace by NEC uses $880 facial-recognition software to allow physical retailers to automatically profile and recognise returning customers. 

In this time of Pervasive Commerce, retailers should recognise the requirements of modern shoppers, investigate how they can move towards a merging of personal and retail ecosystems, and embrace the opportunities afforded by Contextual Automation.

Phil Dearson is head of strategy and user experience at Tribal DDB