Commerce disrupted: why no brand is immune from evolution in tech

Technology is transforming the retail landscape. Hannah Mirza, global head of partnerships at MediaCom, proposes a route map.

Right now, retail is changing more dramatically than it has since the first market stall was erected. If that seems like hyperbole then it’s certainly fair to say changing in more fundamental ways than it has since the supermarket revolution.

The driver for change is technology. Bringing with it new ways of shopping, new ways of searching and new ways of marketing, changes that affect everyone in the supply chain from e-commerce to high street to supplier.

The scale of these changes is illustrated by Amazon’s reveal of a physical store that has no check outs in Seattle. Due to open in early 2017, Amazon Go will use your mobile, beacons and sensors amongst other technologies to reinvent the shopping experience.

Commerce is being disrupted and no brand is immune. That was the premise behind MediaCom’s #commercedisrupted, an event hosted by Google and attended by leading retailers, e-commerce brands, product companies and start-ups yesterday.

The aim was to explore the four disruptors of retail, while also presenting potential solutions to those challenges:

  • Physical stores are implementing enabling technology, to connect the virtual or digital work with the physical one. 

  • Brands that have never sold direct to consumers are facing pressure to do so thanks to start-up competitors which are breaking the traditional business model, using tech to reach consumers. 

  • Brands are under constant pressure to upgrade existing ecommerce solutions. To win they need to keep rivalling consumer experiences as seamless as these pacesetters.

  • Commerce is moving from destinations to new venues – be it buying from banners, outdoor screens or via dark social platforms. Media is becoming a retail destination.  

The key message for delegates was not to feel threatened by the speed of change but to embrace the opportunities presented. All too often the biggest disruption will not come from the latest tech but the latest application of existing tools. The technology that Amazon is using for example is not brand new, they are merely trailblazing its application.  

Altering perspectives

Technology is also transforming how we think about media and brands need to plan against the point of exposure and the point of transaction as they are closer than they have ever been before. Creating a road map that enables this with technology at each nuance takes time. Ultimately, the future of retail is one where physical and digital blend into one refined pathway to purchase.  

"The prize for marketers and retailers that get this right is not just a 10% gain but the chance to grown tenfold"

The importance of making this adjustment was reflected in the latest data from media delivery service Valassis, which showed that shopper marketing spend will surpass brand marketing between now and 2020. 

Making such spend effective will require retailers to combine content and context to reach their key audiences. As Kate Ward, vice-president of International, Refinery29, explained, posting an article such as "Great trousers to wear if you’re short" would achieve more traction than "12 trousers to wear right now" because it speaks directly to a specific target group. To deliver content needs to be much more targeted.

The future is also much more mobile. As Martijn Bertisen, sales director at Google UK, identified, the majority of search queries around Black Friday, the busiest e-commerce event of the year, came via mobile. Proof, if it were needed, that e-commerce is increasingly mobile first.

The prize for marketers and retailers that get this right is not just a 10% gain but the chance to grow tenfold. What’s essential is that they invest in pilots and prototyping in a calculated way to see where the opportunities are for their business. 

Future tech

Technology may be changing but the need for organised experimentation remains. Some of the new tech they might want to test was featured in the start-ups panel. This included Think & Go’s touch-and-go payment screens that let consumers buy products by simply tapping their credit or debit card – or mobile phone, even – against a digital screen.

Other technology on show included Viddyad, a start-up that allows brands to create video ads online, in minutes, using a library of assets and templates, and Verticly, a platform that connects digital audiences with in-store purchases in real time.

The future of retail requires brands to put partnerships at the heart of their commercial efforts. Merchants and analysts, technologists and marketers need to find new ways to work together, with media delivering results at every stage of the purchase funnel.

Hannah Mirza is global head of partnerships at MediaCom

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