To get insight on what’s to come in the next 12 months with e-commerce and CX technology, RetailCustomerExperience reached out to experts and gurus for predictions.
If there’s one top compelling result from two years of COVID-19 it’s this: e-commerce and every other digital channel is tops with consumers — even as they return in droves to physical retail stores.
For retailers that means work — improvements and enhancements in 2023 to online stores and any other digital channel, such as mobile retail.
When it comes to the second most compelling result from the pandemic, it’s this: Technology is key to everything touching the customer experience.
To get insight on what’s to come in the next 12 months on both fronts, RetailCustomerExperience reached out to experts and gurus for their predictions.
Guy Yehiav, president, SmartSense:
The key is sensor harmonization with telemetry data from all sensors on the network regardless of which company they were sourced from. The software that processes the sensor data must be easy to use and not require users to read the manual. In order for there to be 100% adoption, the hardware must be plug-and-play. Users will not accept anything else.
Danny Keough, head of global customer success, SmartSense:
With the market being saturated, customers have a lot of options when it comes to who they partner with. With executives under pressure from a margin perspective, it will be up to the service providers to ensure customer delight by over delivering on desired outcomes.
IoT customers are continually expecting more and more traceability from soup to nuts across every part of their products’ journey. From the farm, to production, to transport, to warehouse, to back of store, to on the shelf, retailers and their customers want to have access to the remote data that gives them a full picture of the freshness and quality of their products. This upcoming year, we will see the next level of data insights and traceability.
David Naumann, marketing strategy lead and resident retail industry expert at Verizon:
More robots in warehouses. Robots will be used in 2023 in places like warehouses as a means to help with labor shortage, as well as a way to prevent human injuries. They are a bonus for efficiency as well — robots can help cut time in half when working on a job.
Waterfield CEO Steve Kezirian:
We predict the adoption curve for conversational AI will accelerate in the year ahead as end users increasingly expect — and demand — this more human type of interaction with the businesses that serve them.
There’s no doubt that deploying conversational AI in the contact center can require an upfront investment. However, these acquisition and ongoing management costs are dramatically lower with today’s more advanced conversational AI solutions than the ones pioneered more than a decade ago.
But rather than viewing conversational AI as a cost, organizations should view it from a value perspective. Think about conversational AI versus interactive voice response. Conversational AI is like an iPhone, with the myriad of functions it can provide. IVR is an outdated cell phone. Yes, it can make a call, but it’s otherwise limited.
Thanks to the experience we’re all enjoying in our homes with digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, conversational AI will soon be table stakes for a company’s contact center. It will allow for greater levels of customer self-service. And in addition to providing a better experience for an organization’s customers, conversational AI can deliver richer and more relevant customer insights than what companies get today from other contact center technologies — helping to drive costs out of the business.
For example, retailers are constantly dealing with seasonal spikes in demand. Instead of hiring 200 people in the contact center to be ready for Valentine’s Day, why not invest in a tool like conversational AI that can do the same things those employees can do thanks to powerful tools like natural language processing and machine learning that facilitate interactions and allow a business to scale their contact center up and down as needed based on demand.
Every business-to-consumer company has a contact center. If that B2C company operates in the metaverse, they should be prepared to offer a contact center in that environment. And we’re definitely seeing some companies beginning to experiment there.
However, we don’t predict broad adoption of the metaverse either in 2023 or the foreseeable future. It would require too great an investment for an organization to make and build out services, particularly given the current addressable market is so small.
New contact center technologies are emerging that knock down silos and walls and offer an end-to-end look at the holistic customer journey. This will change the customer experience as we know it.
For instance, in a traditional environment, an end-user customer may visit a company’s website, then call in to make a purchase or resolve an issue via an agent. Instead, in a modern contact center environment, the conversational AI agent will already know the end user has been on the company’s website and immediately present them with customized offers based on cookies that recreate their browsing journey. Data and analytics will evolve to create that holistic customer journey coupled with software that helps organizations shorten the time needed to serve their customer — all while being smarter about it.
Susan McReynolds, product manager at Akamai:
Retailers will lean into better understanding the security, compliance, privacy and data governance challenges presented by the metaverse. Embracing the metaverse layers on new risks for retailers as they will have to consider an expanded attack surface.
As virtual storefronts are rolled out, they will be confronted with the need for increased data privacy and additional security requirements for authenticating users in a virtual world where transactions are irreversible. Retailers will also need to contend with API security challenges associated with virtual storefronts, as well as the interoperability of a consumer’s digital assets as they move from one place to another.
Eve Maler, CTO at ForgeRock:
Retailers will blaze the trail in implementing passwordless authentication for consumers. Passwordless has been in our crystal ball for a very long time — but never has it been closer than now. Retailers, in particular, are facing increased security, fraud and account takeover threats as they adopt new digital channels and technologies. We see them leading the way in implementing broad consumer adoption of passwordless authentication.
Digital wallets and biometrics have become critically important for unlocking consumer devices and enabling easy next steps such as purchase approval. In self-checkout scenarios, retailers face unique challenges since physical fraud can also be a major concern. Many retailers are feeling the pressure to go fully self-service in a legally compliant way even in the case of selling age-restricted goods such as liquor. Typically, such purchases require intervention by staff to check someone’s physical ID, which slows checkout.
In these scenarios, digital wallets are getting a second look as a source of not just payment, but also verified user information presented in a format that the user can’t tamper with. As more retailers adopt passwordless and make it more mainstream, we’re going to see more and more consumers pulling it into their everyday lives. This is the nail in the coffin for passwords long-term, and in 2023 retailers will make more deliberate efforts toward the integration of the passwordless society we’ve been working toward for so long.
Janine Pollack, marketing director, MNI:
As technology becomes inextricably woven into the fabric of consumers’ lives, many are realizing that the risks associated with it are amplified with far-reaching and long-term effects on society. Consumers expectations are increasingly focused on retaking control of their digital presence back into their own hands. As consumers start putting guardrails in place in their digital lives, brands must deliver a better experience — expanding data transparency and delivering privacy-first systems to help deliver on the safeguards that consumers are coming to demand.
Jay Myers, co-founder, Bold Commerce:
Today’s consumers are engaging with brands and their products beyond e-commerce sites, so they should be able to make purchases beyond brands’ websites as well.
In 2023, we’ll see more retailers adopt technology that powers checkout on any digital and physical channel to meet shoppers where they are most engaged. As part of this, we’ll see retailers moving to take a headless approach to commerce, to offer shopping experiences beyond limitations of their traditional e-commerce platforms.
We’ll see brands introducing customized digital shopping on channels that weren’t originally designed to cater to completing a purchase, such as packaging, videos or even fitness equipment. For example, consumers will be able to make purchases while on Instagram or while cycling on their Peloton — all without being redirected to an e-commerce site. Consumers will have quicker, more accessible options to make a purchase on all the channels that they’re already engaging with brands.
Deniz Ibrahim, VP of product marketing, Bluecore:
As prices rise and a recession looms, consumers’ spending will continue to fluctuate and their buying priorities will shift. But eventually, inflation will go down and demand will increase — and it will be returning shoppers, not first-time buyers, that will come back to brands.
In 2023, the retailers that continue to nurture repeat shoppers as they normally would will be those most ready to welcome customers back. By understanding how shoppers engage with a brand and what products they’re engaging with — even when they’re not actively shopping — retailers can predict what will be top of mind for individual customers when they do start shopping again.
The retailers that engage with their shoppers during the good times, and the bad, will be those that are able to future-proof customer loyalty through an impending recession.
Luke Amery, CEO and founder, Codisto:
Niche marketplaces will rise to the top. While Amazon is the largest retail platform, specific marketplaces are flourishing, with Shopify at the forefront of launching its own facility to help up-and-coming marketplaces to blossom. From sustainable marketplaces (Thrive Market, Meeschell) to subscription marketplaces (Cratejoy) and more, niche marketplaces will continue to blossom as retailers look to build consumer trust and loyalty, with generally less competition.
Brands will hinge less on Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Amazon Prime Day, Singles’ Day and big brands eschewing Black Friday (e.g., Patagonia), means that the Thanksgiving holiday season has become less prominent over the years. Savvy retailers will strategically use other times of the year to roll out deals, sales and other approaches to engage shoppers.
Brands must be equipped to optimize sales in a cookie-less future. With tightening data privacy restrictions, retailers must be prepared to leverage alternative solutions to reach new customers, such as tapping into accessible first-party data from other sources and asking consumers to consent to receive engaging marketing email newsletters. Online retailers set themselves up for success if they adopt a comprehensive e-commerce tool that optimizes processes to make these efforts successful.
Sanjay Mehta, head of industry and commerce at Lucidworks:
E-commerce further penetrates additional digital mediums and IOT. The further move of media from analog, print-to-digital, such as streaming, provides significant opportunities to expand the reach of products beyond both physical and digital shelves. In-app advertising and purchasing of products beyond what is in the scope of the app itself will dramatically increase.
More e-commerce engagement and transactions will be facilitated through the likes of chatbots, AR/VR and similar interactive tools. This will not only improve experiences through intelligent guidance for example, but it will also reduce the effort shoppers have to extend when finding and picking correct products.
Raj De Datta, CEO and co-founder, Bloomreach:
The mass adoption of digital between 2020 and 2021 led to incredible gains in e-commerce sales for nearly every sector. In 2022, sales were much more leveled, if not challenged in certain sectors, with businesses measuring against prior years’ astronomical gains. While this leveling off was to be expected, we should expect stronger numbers again in 2023 — approximately 15% year-over-year growth in e-commerce versus the 5% we have seen in 2022. Many businesses have spent the past few years putting time and resources into their e-commerce experience, enhancing their ability to attract, retain and convert customers. This coming year will show the sustainable value of those investments.
Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.