The Future of Ecommerce: Beyond Facebook, Beyond Convenience

ecommerce-order-flowchart-900Facebook recently announced it is testing a “Buy” button to streamline the ecommerce experience for its users. This feature will allow a desktop or mobile user to click “Buy” on an ad or post, just as they would “Like” or “Share,” and purchase directly from within Facebook. While click-to-buy represents a step in the integration of social and commerce, it’s just a tiny part of the shifting ecommerce landscape.

Businesses need to look beyond the convenience represented by features like click-to-buy and consider the bigger trends that will revolutionize the ecommerce experience. It’s time for forward-looking companies to capitalize on social and mobile behaviors, glean customer insights and lay the groundwork for the benefits of predictive analytics. These investments may not pay dividends immediately, but over time will define truly great and personalized customer experiences.

The Instant Economy

The rise of social and mobile has shaped a consumer-empowered economy in which we can quickly and easily make purchase decisions about any product, at any time and on any device. I can use my smartphone while in a store to scan a barcode and compare prices on the spot, then decide whether I’ll buy from that retailer, go to another store down the street or buy online. I can also get real-time product reviews from peers, friends and other consumers — all of which are more compelling than any blurb from a marketer.

Retailers must face this new reality by embracing social reviews and commentary, supporting their products with easily accessible customer ratings, and ensuring that their products are priced and advertised such that they are the most viable option available when a consumer compares prices on the spot.

Personalization, from Cradle to Grave

Personalization is simply more effective than marketing and merchandising to the masses. We’ll see an increased focus on hyper-specialized merchandising as consumers become more willing to share their information with retailers. While this won’t happen overnight, we’re already seeing the progression.

As brands prioritize the individual experience, they’ll be able to focus on creating one-on-one interactions that build loyalty and drive greater lifetime value. Brands can better serve (and sell to) each customer by retaining them over time — adapting offerings to changing preferences, needs and consumption patterns.

Consider an insurance firm that merchandises its portfolio of insurance products in the context of the individual’s needs over the course of their lifespan, beginning with motorcycle and car insurance, progressing to renter’s, house, life, disability and long-term care insurance. The company can optimize and adapt their products over time to provide more effective offers. Unless you know your customers, you can’t anticipate their needs and identify when they may be willing to upgrade.

Data and the Customer Experience

To make this kind of personalization a reality, brands need to begin collecting information (with their customers’ permission) and identifying patterns. Once they have aggregated enough data to understand their customers’ buying habits and profiles, they can source products based on demand and better tailor their offers. They can also use data to identify where people are falling out of the funnel. The more every interaction and piece of content can be analyzed, the more efficiently changes can be made to increase conversions.

The next step is for brands to understand that commerce and customer experience management are closely linked, and make the most of this union. Most companies are investing their marketing technology dollars on acquiring customers — but using a common platform and the same information to feed both will allow marketers and merchandisers to create more personalized commerce experiences and lifelong customers.

Ecommerce has come a long way since the early days of online shopping, but there’s a lot of room for companies to grow — not just in implementing the newest functionality, but in using data-driven insights to provide experiences that convert customers for the long-term.

Mark Floisand is VP, Product Marketing at Sitecore