E-commerce in the experience economy – How VA, AR and drone deliveries are shaping customer experience

E-commerce and the internet have created a huge disruption in the way we shop. People are more inclined towards online shopping with the convenience of getting things delivered to their doorstep. With unfettered access to an abundance of information at our fingertips and innumerable options at our disposal the way we make a purchase decision has undergone a 360-degree turn.

Customers are spending a lot of time researching, browsing, and arming themselves with information before making a purchase decision.

According to Google, today’s shoppers spend an average of 13 days researching before deciding on a big purchase or making a weighty decision.

With a multitude of choices to pick from, customers hold the power in the market.

Today, customers are unquestionably seeking experiences over tangible stuff. A Walker study suggests, “By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.”

Meeting each of these micro-moments of a customer’s purchase journey with a seamless, modern and assistive experience is the only way e-commerce companies can differentiate themselves. And brand loyalty? It has become a thing of the past. Positive brand favorability is the new brand loyalty.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

Moreover, technologies have started to play a major role in our online shopping experience. Voice assistants, AI, and AR, are revolutionizing the way we shop. With image search options, augmented reality enhancing our shopping experience, voice assistants acting as our personal shoppers, and most of our shopping happening over smartphones and tablets while we are multitasking, e-commerce businesses can survive only by ensuring they are not behind on these fronts.

Being at the dawn of this new industrial age called the experience economy – to help you compete fairly, here are the e-commerce customer experience technologies you need to master the art and science of brand favorability.


Big decisions on the small screen – Mobile, the new shopping assistant


Smartphones have now become the go-to advisor and shopping assistant for people. For retailers, this means big opportunities to be there and be useful in shoppers’ micro-moments.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

People’s expectations are higher. People have started increasingly using personal language — such as “me” and “I” — in their searches. But it seems pretty straightforward, customers want the best of things. But more importantly, they want what’s best for them.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

And this applies to location-based searches too. “Near me” is no longer just about finding a specific place. It’s now about finding a specific thing, in a specific area, and in a specific period of time.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

We don’t go to a store without our wallets; now all of us can say the same thing about our smartphones. In stores, 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision. What they find online can influence their decisions right down to the very last minute before a purchase.

But research isn’t the only way mobile is changing today’s shopping experience. Shoppers buy on mobile, too. A person today might make a buying decision about a $15 tube of eye cream, a $300 pair of shoes, or a $3,000 handbag on a smartphone while on their commute to work, as they walk their dog, or wait to pick up their kids from school.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

Mobile apps provide retailers an opportunity to connect with consumers beyond the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar business. Now, businesses can reach consumers anywhere. Even when customers aren’t shopping, retailers can still be on their minds as a constant presence in the form of an app on a customer’s smartphone reminding them that their brand is out there, as an option.

The mindset of customers today has shifted to “if I want it now, I can get it now”. Customer expectations for fast and easy to use mobile experiences are higher than ever. This makes the mobile experience a business priority. If e-commerce retailers start providing a seamless mobile experience, it becomes a win-win for everyone.


Make the best out of the modern word of mouth – Voice Assistants


Voice assistants and voice-activated speakers are increasingly becoming a part of people’s routine. Whether you’re setting an alarm, dimming the lights, or playing the appropriate music on a Friday night, voice assistants convert your voice into action. Life is getting more convenient while reducing the time we spend on screens. Saying a few words, asking Siri or Alexa to look for something is easier and more efficient than typing a search query.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

Voice assistants are becoming a new consumer channel. Voice shopping is set to jump to $40 billion by 2022, rising from $2 billion today. This channel with its growing traction poses new opportunities for brands.  

With Amazon Echo and Google Home gaining popular adoption as smart speakers for homes, a customer’s first touchpoint with any product will become the modified word of mouth – voice assistants. Voice assistants will drive e-commerce in the foreseeable future.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

Amazon recently announced a startup fund of $100 million which envisions an Alexa-filled future where voice assistants are available anywhere you turn, ready, and eager to help you solve your problems or make your next purchase.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

If your brand aligns with the current and upcoming voice-commerce trend, can you be found by Alexa? Do you have a strategy for this channel?

These assistants are programmed to recommend the most commonly requested items or popular brands. This means that the top players will make all the sales. This also means that e-commerce companies that provide good voice assistant experiences will generate more business.


If you see it, you can buy it – Image Search


Our brains process visual images far more quickly than textual images. With new, intelligent, visual search technology being incorporated into branded apps and websites as well as improved visual search functionality being built into platforms such as Pinterest, Amazon, and eBay, visual search is changing the e-commerce landscape.

Image search technology can serve as the link for customers between spotting items in real life and finding them online.

For example, Pinterest Lens “lets you use the camera in your Pinterest app to discover ideas inspired by objects you see out in the real world.”

eBay introduced Image Search and Find It. Image Search allows customers to take a picture of something they see and then use it to search for a similar product on eBay. Find It allows customers to click items on any website or social media and then search for them via URL on eBay.

eCommerce customers shop with their eyes making visual search technology a natural fit for them. On a global scale, e-commerce retailers can benefit a lot by adding this technology to further enhance the shopping experience for their customers.


Conversational marketing – Say hello to Chatbots and Automation


While traditional channels are linear, conversational marketing supports two-way communication. Chatbots are examples of excellent conversational marketing tools.

Businesses are integrating Chatbots in their system to delight customers and to improve brand image. Chatbots and virtual assistants are the future of any business. With the help of chatbots, you can order food, check luggage at the airport, book a hotel room, schedule a flight and so much more. Chatbots will help your e-commerce business automate customer support.

For example, Starbucks makes it easy for their customers to place an order for their favorite drink or snack. Their chatbot can give you details regarding the status of your order, payment details, etc.

Another great customer service chatbot example is Hipmunk. This travel search engine uses the technology for travel-related questions and recommendations on its website. Also, the office supply retailer Staples uses a chatbot to offer products based on order history. It even helps to complete a purchase directly through a chat.

Live chat is another prominent conversational marketing tool. It allows businesses to reach out to customers based on their behavior and demographic even before they get in touch, by initiating a preemptive chat invitation.

Moreover, live chat becomes a search tool within your website. How? When a customer is unable to find something on your website, and you have a live chat tool, they can ping you asking for that item. This makes live chat tool more or less similar to a search bar.


Try before you buy – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality


Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming the e-commerce landscape. From digital assistants to image-recognition software, what once seemed like science fiction is now rapidly becoming a reality.

Both AR and VR apply similar technology – virtual reality builds an entirely new artificial reality while augmented superimposes some virtual elements to the real world, for example, the Pokemon Go game.

Source: thinkwithgoogle

Augmented reality goes a long way in eliminating ambiguity from e-commerce purchases by helping consumers visualize the product in the context of the physical space they’ll occupy.

For example, home-furnishings company IKEA has had enormous success with its IKEA Place augmented reality app for iOS and Android. It helps shoppers visualize how the furniture will look inside their homes. They can switch products, alter product attributes such as size and color, and see how different furniture items and the room decor will complement each other.

Another example would be Banana Flame, a British clothing e-store, which incorporated AR, as it allows shoppers to use their web cameras as interactive mirrors.

Sephora, a global cosmetics brand launched the Sephora Virtual Artist app that allows customers to see how the makeup will look on their faces without having to try any of it on the body.

Audi provides augmented reality glasses to let customers check out cars.

AR and VR is changing the way how humans interact with their surroundings. As an e-commerce company you can tap into the tremendous potential the technology has, in transforming how customers search for and understand products, before purchasing them.


The future of order delivery – Drones, Droids and Self-driving cars


The customer journey is changing. Consumers want everything, and they want it immediately. Experience matters than anything else – and the technology at our fingertips enable such amazing experiences, only desired in today’s fast-paced world.

– Sam Hurley, Marketing Influencer/ Managing Director, Optim-Eyez

Imagine ordering a pizza or sunscreen and imagine it arriving within the next 15 minutes from the sky. For most of us, drones swarming overhead or droids buzzing down the streets beside us while we are cycling in the morning, delivering everything from groceries to clothes still seems like science fiction. But drones and droid delivery systems are already underway.

Customers’ appetite for faster and faster delivery is growing rapidly – when it only takes the touch of a button to order an item, why shouldn’t delivery be equally instantaneous? While customers crave instant deliveries, retailers are still restricted by huge logistical costs and the enormous challenges of last-mile delivery, including faraway fulfillment centers, prohibitive costs, and traffic overheads. That’s why e-retailers are having such a tough time figuring out how to adapt to this on-demand revolution. Drone delivery then seems a faster, more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and efficient future.

With on-demand delivery quickly becoming the norm, retailers are shifting to air-borne solutions. Despite some obstacles in drone delivery, the benefits of its adoption are great for retailers. This could save e-commerce retailers a lot of time and money when trying to predict logistics and operational costs to their companies and increase their ROI.

Tech and eCommerce giants like Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Alibaba, and Facebook have all been hard at work developing and creating their own drone prototypes and many have started testing these delivery systems with customers. Amazon is first in line with its testing of a new, fast drone delivery system – Amazon Prime. Gur Kimchi, the Amazon executive in charge of its Prime Air drone project, says drones are a more effective means of delivery that the company plans on covering 80 to 90 percent of their shipments with drone delivery in the near future.

A famous example in the food industry, Domino’s delivered a pizza with the help of a drone in 2016 in New Zealand. Once drone airports become a reality, shipping time will be shortened to even a few hours. This is sure to boost online purchases.

The idea of self-driving cars is also around the corner for e-commerce. Some companies are already testing this technology to transport goods without having to pay drivers for the services. It saves time as there is no human behind the wheel and the control lies with the e-retailer or transportation vendor.

Google is planning on implementing driverless cars to provide same-day delivery similar to Amazon. Google is not the only company testing robotic cars to use for delivery. Uber has opened up a facility in Pittsburgh dedicated to building this technology. This technology will be quite practical for medium to large corporations that want to compete with Amazon on shipping speed and price.

Here’s how these deliveries might work, according to those creating it: You order an item online and specify a window of time for it to be delivered to your place. As the package nears its destination, you get an alert telling you to come to the curb to retrieve your merchandise from a locked compartment in the vehicle. You unlock it with a PIN code that can be punched into a touchpad on the side of the vehicle or by scanning a barcode texted to your phone.

Business, as usual, is business no more. Ecommerce brands are facing a world of opportunity to adapt and evolve, with success coming from big and small steps alike. Are you ready for drones and droids?


Bottom Line


When people go online for information, they expect every experience to be tailored just for them. Whether it’s buying that perfect dress, taking a vacation, or going out to a restaurant, people want to avoid making the wrong choice. They are more curious about every purchase they make – no decision is too small.

With so many options to choose from, customers are making decisions based on differences beyond features, price, and quality. Today, people expect brands to understand their intent.

We’ve never been closer to engaging people across their entire journey and assisting them with exactly what they need when they need it. This evolution in consumer behavior requires e-commerce retailers to stay a step ahead – because with heightened empowerment comes heightened expectations for every experience. And people expect those experiences to be useful, personal, and frictionless.

For e-commerce businesses, understanding the different moments and associated mindsets of your customers as they’re planning a buying experience presents a great opportunity to become a part of their consideration early on in their decision-making process. To do so, brands must stop chasing intent and start predicting it. Brands can use predictive signals from search to create, capture, and assist people with what they need, wherever they are. And when you use machine learning and automation to tap into those signals, you can move from chasing intent to building an engine that enables you to anticipate it.

If you can play to the research-obsessed curious customer’s needs, you can assist them in a way that gets them excited, relieves their anxiety, and pulls them into your experience so they don’t choose another brand over you

In short, the brands that offer the best assistance will win. If you’re lagging in this area, make sure you include the above technologies in your playbook for a better chance at unlocking growth and surviving the competitive landscape that is the future of online retail.