mCommerce isn’t only about the final purchase of goods on a mobile device, it’s about technology’s ability to keep consumers connected (to the internet and to brands) while they move around – it is about Mobility. The old adage “Where users are, brands must follow” is as true in the physical world as it is in the virtual world. Mobile allows these two worlds to meet and marketers must take advantage of this environment.
According to AMPS, individual smartphone ownership in South African adults is over 50%. This brings an ever-converging expectation of capability to consumers that brands can leverage (think iPhone 4 as a benchmark). The average mobile experience is becoming faster, smoother and more intuitive and our wireless broadband connectivity continues to become cheaper and always-on. As the device that is always available at the moment of inspiration (research, purchase, finding directions, etc.), consumers are turning to their phones to accomplish more of their daily life’s tasks. Many of which ladder up to a purchase.
Millennials, and to some degree post-millennials, are coming of age. As their disposable income and purchasing power increase, their expectations are becoming democratised demands that can affect a brand’s bottom line. Brands and retailers that meet young consumers ‘where they are’ digitally will continue with success. Those that maintain rigidity and require that customers come to them will lose revenue. ‘Where they are’ should mean the shortest click-path (or perhaps more correctly tap-path) from the moment and point of inspiration to the moment and point of fulfilling it.
Perhaps the most literal interpretation of being where users are is to be in their conversations. Not merely within social media streams but inside their instant messaging apps. Facebook Messenger’s recent push into this area brought chatbots into the spotlight, while WeChat has long been bringing the mCommerce market and instant message environment closer together (but mostly in non-Western markets). While being able to conduct commerce from within the chat environment is fraught with complication of implementation, it is worth skipping the implementation detail for the moment and noting the medium and long term evolution of conversational commerce (as I see it).
On one hand, integrations that bring services to chat environments (whether its Slack for work, or the more social Messenger) enable users to interact with software and services without leaving the paradigm of instant messaging and conversation – but it stops at “be where consumers are”. This could be seen as simply a radical skinning of a store’s consumer-facing digital front-end. This will develop further and reduce the clutter of graphical environments contending for users’ attention and time. Smaller brands need to ensure that they can integrate on this level with available intermediary platforms and services that leverage this behavioural change.
On the other hand, this is merely a stepping stone to creating new environments that consumers will move in to. When you bring chat, artificial intelligence, speech recognition and speech synthesis together, you get services such as Google Now and Apple’s Siri. Remarkable, but not quite changing the commerce landscape. When a giant retailing platform like Amazon enters the fray, we can expect an effect on e-commerce. Amazon’s Echo or the retailer-independent Viv are creating platforms that are designed to not only play in the personal assistant and connected home space, but that are also geared for seamless conversational commerce.
For big brands this is the “where” that ultimately needs to be leveraged, and will require a fundamental shift in how brands expect to be found – shifting our virtual interactions from visual digital devices and advertising to conversational commercial transactions handled by a virtual, “artificially intelligent”, assistant. The questions plaguing brands should not be rooted in chatbot implementations, but rather in questions that seek out stability and opportunity in a quickly changing commercial environment: How does your brand, product, service or platform fare in an AI-led conversational commerce environment? How will your business need to adapt in order to leap into the new paradigm and flourish over competitors? But most importantly, when users move, how easy will it be for us to follow?
To see conversational commerce in action, have a look at a demo of Viv.