Recently, retail and manufacturing brands have been following an odd if predictable playbook. They have taken the lead of the ride-sharing service Uber and dedicated themselves to providing faster, easier and more functional service.
There is nothing wrong with this — if you’re Uber. Thanks to an obsessive focus on impersonal functionality, the brand (and others like it) have certainly made great improvements to traditional ride services. The problem is that retailers are not taxis, and what works for the goose doesn’t always work for the gander.
Recent research from Khoros bears this out. It found that 67% of consumers believe that the best shopping experiences of the future will incorporate both human and digital channels. More to the point, 57% now want the option to talk to someone before buying a product or service.
These findings should suggest an easy and natural pivot for manufacturing and retail brands. After all, it’s how they’ve traditionally operated. While they may be a little out of their depth in providing fast, commoditized experiences, they’ve been mastering creativity and emotion for the past 100 years.
Most of them, of course, achieved their initial success through the use of creative advertising and storytelling, often in mass-market print and television. They told great stories, came up with flashy jingles and increased sales in predictable ways throughout the 20th century. However, that’s not the aspect of their brands that consumers are craving today. Instead, they want the creativity and storytelling that used to come from interactions with real humans on the shopping floor.
Even the most commoditized of traditional shopping experiences — the supermarket — always has counters for specialty items where people can interact with staff to get exactly what they want. Department stores get their name from the fact that they contained specialized stores-within-stores where experts in particular products — jewelry, clothing and cosmetics — would interact with customers to ensure that they got the correct products. Whenever their customers made any considered purchase, other human beings were often involved.
It’s worth pointing out that this kind of human interaction creates a different form of efficiency than what Uber offers. It creates buying efficiency, ensuring that people get the right products the first time around. Highly functional, Uber-ized commerce usually involves ordering several options and getting them quickly, but then going through the hassle of returning most of them.
Today, retailers have numerous ways to construct a shopping experience that brings people face-to-face with sales agents through voice, text or live video — or in some cases an AI chatbot, if that’s the best you can do. They should not think of live commerce as merely another way to meet customer expectations. It’s much more than that: it’s a creative performance that incorporates interaction and storytelling to increase sales and decrease returns. Brand managers can write a script, cast their agents and create a performance. The story can be unique to your brand and can guide shoppers in an arc from indecision or curiosity through an emotionally fulfilling experience.
Live agents also personalize without effort. They can listen to a customer’s story, gather and process information, ask the right questions and pick up on everything from joy to anxiety. They can understand the exact circumstances, for example, around someone attending an ex’s wedding or trying to purchase a gift for a favorite niece. By contrast, even the best Uber-ized algorithm is only a rough tool for dealing with such situations. Not surprisingly, live commerce can often increase sales as much as five times more than traditional digital experiences.
The future for these kinds of technologies is also quite bright. Soon, retailers will have the ability to insert themselves into pretty much any phase of the shopping experience — from initial exploration to the considered purchase. They also offer increasingly differentiated possibilities, such as transfers from one-to-many to one-to-one settings, shoppable marketing with live agents and integration of influencer and creator environments. Finally, because shopping has often been a social experience, brands need ways to facilitate bringing other people, such as friends and family, into the conversation.
So as brands reach the terminal point of their quest to be faster, easier and more convenient, it’s time to recognize where differentiation and growth can actually happen: with human emotion and creativity. Rather than trying to transport people as quickly as possible to their purchasing destination, retailers may want to look at all of the building blocks of the ecommerce world to create a truly unique, differentiated and ultimately emotionally fulfilling live shopping experience for their customers.
Dragorad Knezi is CEO of eyezon. He is an entrepreneur and marketing communications expert with 15 years of experience as a strategic planning director, and has vast experience in building product and brand strategy from scratch for some of the largest international advertisers including P&G, Unilever, L’Oréal, The Coca-Cola Company, Mars LLC, Renault and Audi. Knezi is also an advisor and mentor to several AdTech and MediaTech accelerator programs in Europe and the head of the corporate incubator program at Publicis Communication Russia. He is an insightful and conceptual thinker, combining his mathematical education with a degree in Philosophy and History of Art.