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Q&A: Top Five Digital Consumer Trends in 2018

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In Euromonitor International’s Top Five Digital Consumer Trends webinar, I discussed the latest tech-driven trends shaping commerce, highlighting five digital trends that continue to change the path to purchase. The insights shared sparked conversation among attendees about how different technologies are influencing commerce, and below are a few of the questions discussed in the Q&A. If you weren’t able to attend the live date, you can access this webinar on demand.

Could you elaborate further on what you mean that machine-aided commerce will redefine brand loyalty?

Once the Internet of Things is more fully deployed in commerce, it will be feasible for brands to anticipate the consumer need and fulfill it without requiring the consumer to take any conscious action. While automated purchases are positive for companies, since subscriptions generate reoccurring revenue streams, it also means brands currently on the outside looking in will have fewer opportunities upon which to influence a consumer’s purchase decision and engender a lifetime of loyalty.

The forthcoming era of machine-aided commerce will change the way consumers browse in some categories, leading them to bypass many of the steps in the traditional marketing funnel, including common stops like awareness, interest and consideration. Purchases made for replenishment products in the future may have no marketing funnel at all. For brands that will be more impacted by this coming era of passive commerce, the challenge will be how to create moments of continued brand engagement in categories where consumers have removed themselves from the purchase debate altogether.

You spoke about how players like Alipay and Apple Pay could build worldwide acceptance with regard to global wallets. Could you ever envision a merchant-branded wallet doing the same?

Merchant-branded mobile wallets win by becoming heavily integrated as the go-to wallet for its key consumers. A third-party app like Apple Pay wins by gaining acceptance across a breath of merchants, verticals and countries. In the world of physical card payments the notion of arguing that a merchant-branded wallet could build broader acceptance, is the equivalent of arguing that a popular store card has a brighter future than a card product that can be used across a wider ecosystem.

Ultimately there is limited real estate on a consumer’s mobile phone so only the most popular brands with a loyalty-driven, high-frequency usage are likely to gain a footing. That is why mobile payments apps with the potential for greater ubiquity have a bright future. Simply put, it is unlikely consumers will ever be able to use a merchant-branded wallet like Starbucks or Walmart Pay to pay for a mass transit ride, a tank of gas or dining out. By the very nature of what they can offer, mobile payment providers like Apple can dream bigger than a merchant.

What do you see being the future of privacy? Will consumers push back to being tracked?

I believe we are going to see the pendulum swing back and forth between the need for brands to deliver a certain experience for consumers and concerns that consumers increasingly have with regard to privacy. Increasingly, consumers expect companies to deliver a “story for one”, but not all consumers embrace the methods required to acquire the data that powers such experiences.  As marketers better connect the dots between consumers’ wants and the goods and services they sell, consumers may feel their privacy has been invaded. Whether consumers would be willing to give up more privacy in exchange for more personalised experiences is a major conundrum in the corporate world.

At the same time, you have sweeping privacy laws about to take effect in Europe. This tightening of regulation in Europe will have far-reaching implications outside of the continent. If a company sells goods or services within the EU, they will be subject to the new ruling. Therefore, global companies will have to change the way they collect and use personal information, either specifically in Europe or across their entire operations, in order not to not to put themselves at risk of significant fines.

How are companies based outside of Europe reacting to the region’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation?

As I mentioned before, if a company sells goods or services within the EU, they will be subject to the new ruling. Therefore, global companies will have to change the way they collect and use personal information, either specifically in Europe or across their entire operations, in order not to not to put themselves at risk of significant fines. Based on my conversations with the industry, companies appear to be taking a broader approach. Instead of tweaking their European strategy specifically in order to align with these new rules, companies are making adjustments to their global strategy.

Do you see QR codes having a promising future?

QR codes are by no means the most sophisticated technology available today. I see them serving a role as a bridge technology used to reach the breadth of a consumer base. QR codes have had their greatest success in markets like China and India where large swathes of the population does not own sophisticated smartphones and in some cases any smartphone at all. Even in the US, Starbucks deployed its now-popular mobile app in early 2011 built on the back of QR codes. This was about meeting the market where it was at the time of launch. When the app launched not even 50% of mobile phone units sold in the US were smartphones and of the smartphones sold at that time Apple did not support other technologies like NFC.

Are there promising technologies outside of NFC?

There are a lot of promising technologies outside of NFC. Virtual and augmented realities are generating a great deal of hype due to their potential to enhance commerce. These technologies can drive foot traffic, create new brand experiences or even establish a virtual storefront. Artificial intelligence will enable brands to better synthesize mounds of data and incorporate those learnings to improve the consumer experience. The Internet of Things is also particularly promising due to its ability to improve fulfillment logistics, automate certain commerce categories or enable some manufacturers to offer services like predictive maintenance.

What are the key use cases for the internet of things in commerce?

While the Internet of Things is so far mostly being used for enterprise applications, IoT is particularly promising with regard to commerce appliances. IoT  provides greater visibility across the fulfillment process, enabling retailers to better meet the demands of today’s consumer who is buying more online. Such technology enables companies to track orders from the moment an order is placed to the second it reaches the consumer’s doorstep.  Given that many durable goods products require continuous replenishment, notably detergents, fabric softeners or printer ink, there is an opportunity to automate the ordering process. Subscription services started to streamline this process by measuring how frequently a family ordered specific items from a retailer. IoT could enable consumption to be more accurately measured within the durable good itself. Manufacturers now produce washing machines or refrigerators with lifecycles spanning 15 or 20 years, which limits the ongoing interaction with its consumer base. Establishing a relationship through a connected appliance or automobile could be a way to remain in consumers’ minds over the life of a product. For example, printer manufacturers could offer the ability to facilitate cartridge replenishment from the printer itself.

How do you see technology changing the in-store shopping experience?

The retail industry is starting to push back on the notion that the end is near for brick-and-mortar outlets. Instead of shifting into a defensive mode, retailers are going on the offense, and using technology to entice consumers to shop both online and in store.

These are three ways technology could transform the in-person shopping experience.

  • Prices that change by the hour: Taking a page from online retailers, brick-and-mortar retailers will be able to change prices on products and services hourly. The technology will enable retailers to adjust prices on-the-go or mark down weekly specials more efficiently. Retailers can even make adjustments based on supply and demand
  • Shopping in an enhanced reality: Technology is enabling retailers to mix digital with reality to enhance consumer engagement and boost brand loyalty. While many of the first commerce use cases have been deployed online, retailers are starting to use the technology to create more fun, experiential settings in store.
  • Unmanned checkouts that eliminate the need for cashiers: Since Amazon Go made headlines a year ago, retailers have been knocking on the doors of technology firms wanting to understand how to create unmanned store fronts themselves. The rise of more affordable item-level tagging brought forth by the Internet of Things era and new computer learning technologies and smarter algorithms ushered in by artificial intelligence have made it possible.
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