The Next Phase of E-Commerce: A 'Human' Customer Experience
The e-commerce customer experience will continue to evolve … but how? The coming wave is going to be dramatically different. While e-commerce is nearing 30 percent penetration among consumers globally and almost any product can be bought online, most of these experiences are still based on intent.
IRL shopping experiences are still, in many ways, more fulfilling than online, but this is going to change. There's a swath of unmet consumer need for online experiences that provide for discovery and impulse, and research shows that it could be as much as 49 percent of consumer purchasing power. These experiences are starting to emerge, however, and are giving us visibility into the core elements of customer experience that will define success in this next wave. Successful e-commerce customer experience will be personally connected, inspiring and entertaining, video-based, and feel much more “human.”
Personally Connected Experiences Win Over Automated Personalization
Virtually every digital service today is personalized, from social feeds to Netflix recommendations; consumers expect it and current technologies enable it. However, the automated recommendations can feel creepy (“how did they know I was low in vitamin D and needed those supplements?”) and often misses the mark. The most successful experiences are those establishing a personal connection through a trusted face (e.g., celebrity or influencer), demonstrating a knowledge of what the consumer wants by asking natural, sensible and expected questions, and allowing the consumer to “drive” the experience through a series of choice-driven prompts focused on the needs most important to them.
For example, eko’s Cookshop, which features a range of celebrity hosts (from Patti Labelle to Jamie Oliver), asks the consumer questions in a natural way (vs. offering manufacturer-driven options), and unfolds based on consumer (not sponsored) choices. Data from the beta launch shows an 8.7 percent clickthrough rate, indicating unparalleled shopping intent from engaged users. And other categories are jumping in, too, with experiences like LEGO’s holiday gift finder, and The University of Wisconsin's personalized benefits counselor, ALEX.
Entertaining Experiences Engage and Inspire Emotional Response
Searching through a grid of products with static 2D photos is hardly entertaining or inspiring. Content that's entertaining and useful (how to use, where/how it was made, etc.) can change this and give consumers reason to seek out and keep coming back to a retailer.
While retailers have engaged in “branded content” for years outside of commerce, we're now seeing the emergence of entertainment directly integrated within the commerce customer experience, and this is a trend that will continue to gain steam.
The best experiences engage with entertaining stories that connect emotionally, and use that connection to drive a response. Two brands excelling at this are NTWRK, a direct-to-consumer shopping service where products are promoted through entertaining experiences, and the LOL Surprise website, which includes a place for kids to “play” as well as shop.
Video Drives Emotional Connection and Understanding Better Than Any Other Medium
No medium is better than video to create an emotional connection. According to a new report from Snap, Gen Zers and millennials say they spend over one hour per day watching video on social media apps alone. Over half (52 percent) of Gen Zers and millennials say this increased viewing is here to stay.
When used in the context of commerce, the emotive storytelling capability of video generates increased clickthroughs and sales. When consumers see a recognizable face, it establishes implicit trust for that new beauty product; when they see how that complex piece of furniture is assembled, they understand it better; when they know the backstory of the new sustainable coffee brand, they're more compelled by the cause to purchase. With technological advancements making video much more feasible and economical, this format will be an essential part of the e-commerce customer experience going forward, as reported by Andressen Horowitz in The Video-First Future of E-Commerce.
Experiences That Inspire, Entertain, and Solve Discovery Win the Next Wave
Given three decades of growth, accelerated by the pandemic over the last year, e-commerce has become a preferred and essential part of life across many product categories. The next wave of growth will be won by companies that augment and evolve their buying experiences to engage consumers with not just what they need, but in ways they love.
Jim Spare is the president and chief operating officer of eko, a technology company leading innovation in e-commerce customer experience, enabling businesses around the world to inspire consumers and sell more through personalized choice-driven video.