By Sri Shivananda
There's no doubt that technology has re-shaped the way the world thinks about buying and selling. Who would have thought 20 years ago that people would be shopping on their phones? Here is where I see the future of commerce being won and lost, as we continue on this technology journey:
Meeting ever-increasing demand for personalised experiences
We've already witnessed the transition of commerce from brick-and-mortar to the web, and then from the web to mobile. The next phase of internet connected devices will make commerce even more contextual whereby anything you can interact with can be a platform for commerce. Imagine being able to point your phone at your best friend's shoes, and almost instantly they are in your shopping cart, ready to be delivered to your home!
Mobile has already made shopping an "all the time" activity and has given us a taste of what it's like to have hyper-personalised experiences. While a consumer walking into a retail store is limited by physical space, the online world offers an unlimited shelf for merchants to deliver tailored customer experiences. Looking ahead, innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) hold great promise to further deliver on this hyper-personalisation, by being able to learn about who a consumer really is as a person and her individual preferences.
As a result of this evolution, customers have moved from being surprised and delighted by personalised experiences to expecting them in every context. This shift has made it critical for merchants to avoid delivering homogenous experiences to shoppers. In doing so, it's important that merchants find a balance between personalising their offerings and ensuring consumers don't feel their privacy is being invaded. Shoppers want to feel like a brand understands them, but isn't stalking them, particularly in the wake of several high-profile data breaches.
Closing the consumer fulfilment gap to deliver seamless experiences
With new advancements in technology comes the ability to create seamless customer experiences that narrow the gap between customer desire and fulfilment. We're already seeing the growth of commerce through technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants and virtual reality, so it's critical that merchants keep pace with innovations that enable them to close the gap between desire and purchase in a delightful way. The act of filling up a cart and the process of checking out are friction points while making a purchase and technology can solve for it in a big way!
Managing customer reactions to technology disruption
Every tech disruption in its early days delivers excitement, fear, anxiety and doubt. We all go through a phase of tech humanisation, because technology grows as we do-and we help shape the development of new solutions. The acceptance and humanisation of technology will take place for both consumers and merchants as new innovations are applied to the world of commerce. Merchants need to have a mindset that's focused on being a customer champion, while recognising that customers need to adapt to new technologies in their own time. To do this, businesses must leverage technology to build the right features that aren't intrusive, but geared towards helping people, and respect the customer's choice to turn technology on or off.
Technology innovation will continue to re-shape commerce in the years ahead, with the potential to deliver new growth opportunities for merchants, and offering customers more choice, convenience, value and instant gratification. These innovations can also help promote employment by breaking down traditional barriers to buying and selling. For merchants, the opportunities will arise, they just have to know how to take advantage of them in the right way.
(The writer is CTO, PayPal)