Modern commerce will be defined by cloud-based flexible digital platforms, according to Gartner’s senior digital analyst Mike Lowndes.
Speaking at Commercetool’s annual Modern Commerce Day in Amsterdam this morning, Lowndes laid out what he sees as the major emerging trends in digital retail, highlighting a fundamental restructure of how commerce platforms are built as a key development.
Amid the shift to “headless” commerce structures, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) and increasing personalisation are also set to play a major role in commerce in the coming years.
Here are the key predictions from one of the industry’s leading experts:
AR and VR will become more prevalent
Though these technologies have been arround for a while, Lowndes argues that they are likely to become more prevelant as online retailers realise that “for product discovery, you need something visual”.
“I think that the first generation of conversational commerce was pretty much a fail because of the fragility of voice, it works in simple linear dialogues if you like, but for product discovery you need something visual.”
Technologies like visual search will continue to rise, but the key growth will be in visual configuration, where you can “interact with virtual objects or virtual design to create a product”.
AR is set to continue to take the lead on AR as “it only requires a smartphone” rather than a cumbersome headset.
Despite this technologies like Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens are set to open up VR and help blend the lines between AR and VR.
An area of growth which will utilise this overlapping spectrum of the two technologies will be applications where a smartphone is used to act as VR glasses, where the user can move the smartphone around and be presented with an entirely digital environment.
Digital retailers are already using this to help users experience and customise cars, furniture and homes.
The next key area will be personalisation, which millennials have increasingly come to expect from digital retailers.
Again despite being around for some time, Lowndes argues that “its never been done that well… but obviously its what we all want.”
In order for digtial retailers to begin getting true value out of personalisation, they must be able to “anticipate the needs of customer, understand their intent, be able to target them properly, and then engage them and all of this in a way that at the same time, keeps that trust.”
Businesses must also recognise that personalisation is a “journey” and cannot be done over night. By collecting customer data and moving gradually, “then you start building up different layers of personalisation based on different signals.”
Most importantly, companies must be careful not to “cross the creepy line” when building personalisation.
Unified commerce is a “new word for omnichannel” but the difference is that it’s “multi-channel, continuous and personalised”.
It goes beyond simply buying online and collecting instore to encompass the entire supply chain, through to delivery and customer interaction after purchase.
This is underpinned by the “customer 360 view”, data which maps the customer journey across all channels and the entire journey.
Around 15 per cent of digital retailers still have no good customer data on many channels, while only around 20 per cent have a holistic single view of customers, so there is still work to do.
“The big one is AI” Lowndes stated. According to a Gartner survey 28 per cent of organisations think “machine learning is vital to (their) business”.
“We made a prediction last year that by 2022 five per cent of commerce orders will be predicted or initiated by AI”.
The advancement of machine learning mean digital retailers can now simply buy algorithms, instead of investing million on building their own.
Across 300 companies which Gartner analysed which were using AI for a myriad of use cases, 70 per cent said the technology was “very successful” or “extremely successful”.
“So what this is telling us basically is machine learning is absolutely a thing we must be doing”.
There is also set to be a rise in “augmented human intelligence”, mixing both machine learning and “social signals from friends and the community” to look at your preferences and predict your intent.
API based commerce
This, according to Lowndes, was the major shift underpinning the next evolution in online retail adding that “for me its an absolute no-brainer”.
Though many have been doing business this way for around 20 years, its taken the industry at large until this year to adopt it.
In simple terms this represents a shift away from building your platform around a “monolith” digital commerce platform, to a DXP.
“DXP provides a centre of gravity for managing digital experiences. Its an architecture as much as it is a platform,” he explained.
The DXP allows businesses to connect numerous API’s, applications which take care of individual tasks dealing with everything from analytics to mobile commerce.
Though this new architecture allows for significantly improved flexibility, traditional online retailers have struggled to transfer their operations, as it’s akin to “trying to change the pipes while the water is still running”.
“Ecommerce as a stand alone platform is becoming redundant”.