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5 Tech Advances That Can Deepen Customer Engagemen …

Customers are crucial to a successful business. They can be one-off customers or repeat buyers. Ideally, a business wants a mix of both. Problems arise when marketing tactics fail to attract either type, which is why customer engagement is so critical in today’s hypercompetitive e-commerce environment.

It should be no surprise that customers prefer companies that treat them as valued individuals. It is also no secret that engaged customers to talk, shop and spend more. So, how do e-commerce brands stand out and tell customers that they (and not just their wallets) matter?

The answers:

  • With personalized user experiences (UX) that capture attention and make shopping convenient.
  • With a seamless flow of content, data and functionality across channels.
  • With quality service that customers respond to with sales.
  • With the integration of new technology that deepens relationships, boosts retention rates and increases revenues.

Consider the real-life, in-store experiences that influence customer behavior. People touch objects, try them on, and test them out. They discuss products with friends and other customers. They wander around the aisles, get answers from friendly staff members, and make returns or exchanges.

The goal for e-commerce brands is to blend brick-and-mortar immediacy with the convenience of digital shopping. It is time to leverage technology to transcend the transactional and deepen customer engagement. The following five e-commerce technologies can help build sales strategy to win the interest, business, and loyalty of online customers.

1. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Technology

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are rising stars in e-commerce. The two technologies encourage deeper customer engagement by transforming in-store/in-person shopping activities into rewarding digital experiences.

For example, virtual try-on tools allow online customers to see how they look “wearing” a product rather than relying on mere photography. Customers can take a selfie, select the product they want to try, and the application “applies” it to their face or body.

Many virtual try-on tools also allow users to share on social media for feedback from friends and family. While fashion and beauty brands are rushing to integrate virtual try-on tools into their UX, AR and VR also have plenty to offer in other industries.

Furniture brand IKEA pioneered an AR technology called “home view” that allows users to place virtual furniture around their home with a smartphone camera. The virtual tours also provide similar value. When integrated with virtual try-on and sales functions, the technology allows users to explore and shop in a virtual store the same way they would at a brick-and-mortar location.

AR and VR technologies remove the barriers of digital platforms and allow for meaningful product interactions. They also decrease some of the uncertainty involved in buying a product without experiencing it first-hand. AR and VR offer customers convenient and personalized access to products and services regardless of time, location or device.

2. Conversational Commerce

Conversational commerce technology interacts with customers using clear, natural language. It replicates the one-on-one feel of a dedicated salesperson and helps customers make the right purchase through personalized recommendations and support.

Brands can deliver outstanding service to customers through conversational commerce applications like chatbots, messaging apps, voice assistance, and other natural language interactions. Social media is conversational commerce, too.

As an example, chatbots are a form of artificial intelligence (more about AI soon) that connect with visitors based on event triggers and direct questions. The technology can function via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger so that users can communicate the way they want to.

When a visitor lands on a website, the chatbot will connect and offer help. The user can ask for recommendations, answers and troubleshoot issues without having to browse through the website. After a purchase, the chatbot also can provide shipping updates, assist with returns, and collect customer surveys. Because a chatbot is not limited to the number of customers it can assist, the technology can provide excellent service at scale.

“App fatigue” is another reason to implement conversational commerce. People simply get tired of tapping, scrolling, and typing. They do not want to read endless product descriptions or browse pages for answers. They just want to ask and receive an answer. This is where voice assistance technology and other conversational commerce tools, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, can turn an otherwise reluctant customer into a buyer.

Good conversation naturally deepens engagement with others, and it can drive them further down the conversion funnel. It is important for businesses to find ways to introduce conversation into UX. The conversions will follow.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Sales-focused AI provides real-time personalization of a customer’s shopping experience. It can help businesses deliver more engaging UX by treating customers as individuals rather than parts of a general segment or demographic. Ever since Amazon’s intelligent product recommendations, this feature has become a staple across the e-commerce industry.

AI helps businesses understand customers and market more effectively by gathering, sorting and analyzing behavioral data (e.g. user actions on a website or app, what they are interested in/searching for, etc.). Through intelligent algorithms, websites and apps can dynamically populate the user interface with targeted content to encourage greater interaction.

Simply put, AI helps businesses better understand customers and satisfy expectations. AI can also contribute to better UX by streamlining back-end functions, such as inventory management, instant customer service, and automated CRM (customer relationship management) systems.

Through the increase of operational efficiency on the business side, businesses can devote more time to nurturing customer relationships. When a brand offers an interaction that is natural and personal, a customer is more likely to be engaged and respond to its call-to-action.

4. The Internet of Things

In the Internet of Things (IoT), customer engagement is no longer restricted to a screen or store. This means that upsell opportunities are not restricted, either. Through the IoT, brands can maintain positive engagement, provide added convenience, and capitalize on new sales opportunities at any time and almost anywhere.

The IoT is the interconnection of technology that is embedded in everyday objects (think cars, kitchen appliances, suitcases, etc.) and enables the objects to send and receive data.

IoT items for disposable products also can allow for convenient, subscription-based sales related to product components. For example, the latest coffee makers have been updated to function in the IoT, meaning that the product not only makes coffee but also alerts users when supplies are low — and can even reorder supplies automatically.

Devices like Amazon’s Echo products and Google Home offer new levels of control over the home environment and can act as hubs between other connected devices. The products also leverage conversational commerce technology.

Brands interested in increased customer engagement also need to be looking into the IoT. While building smart e-commerce capabilities into products may be a big change/expensive, the cost of not getting involved in the IoT is greater.

5. API-Based E-Commerce

Running through and behind the aforementioned technologies are APIs or application programming interfaces. These interfaces connect software, hardware, business platforms, third parties, and customers to enable the seamless sharing of data. Due to API-based e-commerce, customers have complete freedom to continue their shopping journey whenever and wherever they want to.

For example, a customer might make a purchase online, consult with customer service via social media, and then exchange the product in-store — all without hassle, because an API has shared the customer’s information across all channels.

Thanks to APIs, businesses can engage intelligently with customers anywhere: from brick-and-mortar stores, online websites and social media, to digital apps and smart devices, wearables, vehicles, and much more. This saves customers hassle and results in a more engaging shopping experience.

Interconnectivity leads to more engagement. Brand interactions can happen anywhere and at any time, and APIs can make them a seamless extension of the actual shopping experience.

Start Your Customer Engagement Strategy

New technology is driving deeper customer engagement every day by eliminating barriers to interaction and shopping. The customer experience is taking on new dimensions. Now, websites and apps show people exactly what they want (or help them find it), and then various technologies maintain and deepen that connection. The experience extends beyond the immediate interaction and becomes available at any time.

Separately, the technologies discussed here are valuable. Together, they support the kind of omnichannel e-commerce experience that nurtures long-term relationships with customers and drives significant increases in revenue.

In the competitive and ever-changing world of e-commerce, integrated technology across time, devices and locations is what drives (and capitalizes on) customer engagement. If businesses make it easy and convenient for people to do business, the conversions will follow.

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Top 3 E-Commerce Trends That Will Drive Sales in 2 …

1. Interactive Product Visualization

Most would agree that when it comes to online shopping, illuminating visualization is the best way for merchants and marketers to present their products to consumers, so they can study every detail and make an informed purchase decision without regretting it afterward.

In addition, one of the obstacles between consideration and purchase is consumers’ uncertainty about product authenticity, especially when it comes to the luxury segment. Since customers can’t physically touch the item they’re considering, their hesitation can be overcome only by presenting them with high-quality images of products displayed in as many views as possible.

Consequently, the seamless zoom feature has become very popular lately, as it allows customers to zoom in on certain details to get a better feel for the product without actually touching it.

Still, even after implementing zoom and making sure that photos are of high enough quality to withstand being magnified, and do not take too long to download (that can result in a drop-off rate of 39 percent), a retailer can take it a step further.

To enhance the online shopping experience, merchants also can consider using demo videos to show products in action. According to Fifty-two percent of participants in a recent poll said that watching product videos makes them more confident about their online purchase decisions.

3D imaging is another option, and it is often the best choice from a visual perspective. American Greetings, a creator and manufacturer of social expression products and e-greetings, looked at every visualization option and, in addition to high-quality photos, now also presents site visitors with 3D images.

Considering that reenacting the in-store experience for greeting cards online is almost impossible with the current visualization tools available, 3D product imaging has solved a major problem for American Greetings. Glitter, foil, embossing, and other attachments are quite common with greeting cards, and it can be difficult to appreciate these features with traditional 2D photography.

It’s only recently that current 3D technologies have advanced enough to be able to process product features that not so long ago were considered out of reach: black, shiny, and glossy objects such as silks, leathers and jewelry items, as well as anything transparent, unusually shaped or textured. Depicting all of that is now possible without obstacles.

Increased customer engagement is not the only benefit of 3D product imaging, as it also boosts metrics that are far more tangible, with conversion rate being a prime example.

With 3D product imaging, TSUM, one of the largest luxury goods department stores in Eastern Europe, managed to increase its conversion rate by almost 40 percent for products in the shoes and bags categories.

TSUM is the first company to have digitized more than 40,000 products in 3D. This case study proves that it is possible to digitize large numbers of stock keeping units (SKUs) in a reasonable time frame with the right tools.

To sum up, with a combination of 3D view, seamless zoom, and limitless configuration options, online shopping is bound to transform into a futuristic experience and exceed the highest of customer expectations in 2019.

2. Artificial Intelligence Solutions

As of now, there’s little to no doubt that the future of e-commerce lies with artificial intelligence. From personalized 3D avatars and virtual fashion advisors for increased interactivity to AI-gathered never-seen-before data for boosting sales, AI is at the helm of an e-commerce revolution.

In order to avoid confusion, let’s separate more hands-on use cases for AI in e-commerce (virtual style assistants and immersive try-it-on sessions) from those related to data (product management and marketing insight gathering).

Remember the character Cher from the movie Clueless? She had her computerized ultimate virtual wardrobe assistant armed with yellow checkered outfits. Seeing the program instilled pangs of envy into the hearts of many teenage viewers of the film.

With the help of AI, though, such an experience is closer than ever. The Echo Look, Amazon’s pilot of a “fashion assistant,” recently was introduced in the U.S. to a limited audience.

The program analyzes the user’s outfit through a combination of algorithms and human stylist insight and passes on its fashion judgement.

Net-a-Porter, an e-store offering designer fashion, is experimenting with technology that scans user data for planned trips and events, and then offers ad hoc style options.

Virtual fashion assistants still have a long way to go, but what was considered fiction just a few years ago now is becoming very real.

As business decision making becomes steadily more data-driven, demand for measurable metrics is higher than ever. Conversion rate, website traffic and customer engagement levels are important guides for marketers in all industries, yet some don’t even realize they have need of previously nonexistent data that is now available.

AI analytics tools of 2019 will be able to track the way potential customers interact with product imagery embedded into retailers’ websites, whether 2D or 3D images, and present the most telling metrics on a heat map. Apart from dwell time, the tool will highlight points of customer interest and the best angles for thumbnail product positioning.

With the insights gathered by AI, e-commerce merchants will be able to improve product visualization, choose winning color combinations, and put bestsellers at the forefront of their offerings. For instance, say that 70 percent of a product page visitors spent the lion’s share of dwell time examining the clasp on a certain jewelry item or zoomed in to see the stitching of a particular dress. To an aggressive marketing team, this type of data could prove invaluable.

Information like this is completely new to the market, and according to Smart Data Collective, the way retailers track their inventory and consumer interest soon will be revolutionized with the help of AI. Keeping in mind ever-growing consumer expectations, “soon” is actually now.

3. Renaissance of Physical Stores

It is true that when it comes to the future of e-commerce the only direction that retailers want to go is forward, and brick-and-mortar stores seem to be a thing of the past.

Yet for some consumers, nothing e-commerce has to offer can quite measure up to the physical in-store experience. In fact, leading global retailers like Amazon and Alibaba now are experimenting with the newly revived power of hands-on shopping.

In fact, Amazon recently opened a new retail store in New York offering a range of products that have a four stars in their customer reviews. The items selected are bestsellers and directly reflect what customers are buying.

“Amazon 4-Star” turns traditional shopping on its head by replicating the virtual within the physical instead of vice versa. Copying the structure of the Amazon website, the store has products organized by headings already known to online shoppers such as “Trending Around NYC,” “Frequently Bought Together” and “Amazon Exclusives.”

Alibaba Group also seems to believe in the renaissance of physical stores, as it recently debuted its first fashion concept boutique in Hong Kong.

The store displays a selection of Guess apparel with the help of a “smart mirror” that displays product information on a special screen while shoppers are examining the items. The smart mirror points to where the garments in question can be found, while also diplomatically admitting that it doesn’t know who’s the fairest of them all. It’s definitely a very smart mirror.

Another way to bring the digital shopping experience inside physical stores is digital signage.

While digital kiosks aren’t unknown to brick-and-mortar retail, digital signage, in 2019, will be able to offer additional interactivity, increased engagement, and a seamless omnichannel experience, as any product visualization available to websites also can be used for digital installations.

Interactive kiosks feature a variety of products offered by the store, and — depending on the digital signage software provider — introduce different ways of storytelling. Some show branded films, while others focus on 3D product imaging. Both are interactive, yet — as always — it’s up to the customers to decide which approach works better.

Besides offering improved product visualization, digital signage next year will allow customers to browse goods that are not available in stores, get a purchase code, and order home delivery. Just about any relevant shopping scenario will be possible.

As both SMB and enterprise retail largely have been going digital, brick-and-mortar stores might have been expected to take a backseat. However, the retail market rarely reacts the way it’s expected to, and the recent renaissance of in-store shopping confirms that.

The Bottom Line

Improved product visualization, AI for both in-depth analytics and boosting engagement levels, and revival of the physical store are the e-commerce trends to keep up within 2019.

These trends, when combined, form a solid foundation for a holistic business strategy meant to boost sales and pave the way for brand innovations and a futuristic, yet satisfying, customer experience.

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