A version of this article first appeared in Marketing Magazine, 7/5/2015
Breaking technology stories in early April is a challenge. The pace of change is so extreme, the advances in blurring the boundaries between real world and online experiences so extraordinary that it’s difficult to tell innovation from April Fool. So when Amazon Dash launched its buttons product late on March 31st, the confusion was understandable.
Physical “Buy Now” buttons for all your favourite brands, conveniently located around your home and synched to your Amazon Prime account seemed like an obvious-if well executed-prank. Of course so too do delivery drones, a Google store on Tottenham Court Road, a bank account you unlock with your heartbeat and an Argos “concept store” that looks like a boutique hotel. In today’s retail environment, truth really is stranger than fiction.
The reality is an audacious play by Amazon to seize control of the grocery shopping experience. It’s a move that brings in to sharp focus some of the fundamental changes happening in the world of commerce.
It was once a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that the internet would be the death of the high street, as once iconic brands such as Woolworths, HMV and Blockbuster disappeared, felled by the might of iTunes and Amazon.
The reality is more complicated. We live not in a world of online versus offline but in a world where those boundaries are inextricably blurred. Where offline sales are influenced and enabled by digital technology. Where physical stores are powered by digital data and mobile is ubiquitous at the point of purchase.
While retailers once feared the “showrooming” challenge, today smart stores are gearing up for the “webrooming” opportunity-consumers who research online but buy in store. US designer Rebecca Minkoff recently launched a new concept store equipped with touchscreen interfaces enabling users to send items direct from screen to dressing room and an app which notifies shoppers when their dressing room is ready. RFID tagging for every garment equips store staff with a real time stock inventory. Is this an e-commerce experience or an offline store? It’s a little of both.
In a world where the path to purchase is woven so seamlessly across channels and devices, the notion of e-commerce becomes redundant. This is the world of Brand Commerce-a world where every point of brand interaction can become a point of transaction.
The blurring of these boundaries is made possible by technology and made personal by data.
From a technology perspective, the rise of connected objects, new user interfaces and frictionless payment are creating a world where we are constantly, effortlessly, surrounded by opportunities to connect and transact.
From a data perspective, the rise of programmatic buying and technologies such as Facebook’s Atlas platform mean we are increasingly able to track and optimise today’s complex, multi channel shopper journeys as they weave from mobile to desktop to store and back again.
So what does Brand Commerce look like in practice?
Brand Commerce is about the seamless integration of on and offline retail experiences. The Rebecca Minkoff store is one example. Another is the Fiat Live Store experience created by Isobar Brazil-the world’s first point-of-view Auto Store, offering every user a live guided tour of their car of choice. Disney have invested $1 billion dollars in equipping Disney World with hundreds of sensors designed to capture real time data on where guests are and what they’re doing-for the user this manifests in a simple and effortless “Magic Band” enabling one swipe access and payment.
Brand Commerce is about the seamless integration of content and commerce-L’Oreal recently announced a partnership with Powa that would enable them to make every ad, on or offlline, shoppable. Meanwhile Net a Porter, one of the world’s most formidable online businesses, has launched a glossy, shoppable magazine.
It is about effortlessly managing complex, multi-channel retail journeys. About smart packaging, payment and vending solutions which attach digital data to real world interactions.
Perhaps most importantly it is about thinking of commerce not as a destination but as a layer-building the ability for users to transact whenever and wherever they encounter our brands, whether they pay with a tweet, a Facebook app, or a Magic Band.
What do brands need to thrive in the age of Brand Commerce?
A hunger for data-the world of Brand Commerce will require ever more sophisticated integration of ever more diverse data sets-data from social, data from mobile, data from smart packaging and in store sensors. For every project we undertake we should ask ourselves: What is the data dividend?
An obsession with user experience: to thrive in the era of Brand Commerce brands will need to deliver experiences as effortless, nigh on invisible as Amazon Dash or Disney’s Magic Band
A spirit of invention: Brand will need to break down silos and challenge existing notions of what constitutes a store. The era of Brand Commerce will require the seamless integration of brand builders and engineers, storytellers and store merchandisers, art and the algorithm.