Start embracing new ad formats, because ecommerce is old news
A view from Lawrence Dodds

Start embracing new ad formats, because ecommerce is old news

Consumers want the sales funnel to become frictionless. And that's a problem for brands.

Right now, with most of us working (and shopping) from home, the traditional online sales funnel is seeing more activity than ever. We see an ad, we do our research on Google, we go to Amazon or eBay or the brand’s website and make our purchase.

But things are changing. They were changing before the pandemic and they’re only going to move faster once it’s over. Sales conversions are taking place across multiple locations and touchpoints because, whether in the physical or digital arenas, customers increasingly expect experiences that are easy, quick and shaped by their contextual use.

Consumers want the sales funnel to become frictionless. And that’s a problem for brands. After all, when half of Google searches return no clicks, how do you insert commerce into these behaviours? Advertising formats are evolving and will have to continue that evolution as consumers demand better experiences.

Conversational and shoppable

Retailers such as John Lewis & Partners are starting to join up their online and offline data silos to streamline the overall customer experience and allow for better targeting in the online space. However, the next stage in the evolution of frictionless actually lies in advertising formats becoming direct sales channels.

People are already dipping their toes in the water with social commerce and new types of connectivity. They purchase that new outfit directly through shoppable ads on Instagram, they’re starting to buy on TikTok and some can even order food while they’re still in their cars. In fact, they can now get a subscription to Coca-Cola and get exclusive tastes of new drinks before they hit the shelves.

But we’re also seeing more interactive conversational ads based on decision trees, where the customer is asked about their choices and preferences by sophisticated artificial intelligence such as Google’s AdLingo, and then directed to the product to fit their need. It’s very useful for complex product ranges and situations where too much choice can be a burden.  

And that’s the point. If someone has already engaged with an ad unit, then surely in some cases they could also be directed to buy the product there and then?

Worth a thousand words 

On the one hand, major brands such as NBCUniversal are starting to use ads as direct links to their ecommerce supply chain. On the other, technology is also allowing people to shop without having to lay a single finger on their keyboard.

Visual and image search is making shopping easier than ever. With Google Lens (pictured, above), shoppers can get inspiration and search for items from photos and screenshots. Similarly, Pinterest’s own Lens software apparently now recognises more than 2.5 billion home and fashion products. 

And payment is becoming equally frictionless, thanks to mobile-based services such as PayPal and the new Facebook Pay, enabling speedier routes to purchase inside various digital and social environments.

A new way of thinking needed

It may seem odd to many marketers to think of ecommerce as a traditional, old-fashioned purchase journey, but it has been around long enough now for many customers to be willing to try something new. The breadth is massive and you only need to look at Amazon’s current share price as evidence. 

A lot of brands are still stuck asking "How can we drive shoppers to our website or our retail partner?", when in fact there are now innumerable journey options – each with their own values and approaches. 

With the coming of 5G, in particular, we’re going to see more new ad formats that allow consumers to make purchases outside the walled gardens and in the advertisement itself. Marketers will have to examine not just their on-site digital customer experience, but their offsite one as well. Is it easy to buy your products through social media and do you have content that will drive people to buy there and then, directly through your ads? 

Not to mention the logistical issues – fulfilment will become even more challenging when people are buying from such a wide variety of platforms, each with its own unique customer journey.

Ads are going to have to become more adaptable and brands are going to have to radically rethink their online experiences. I might even say they’ll have to think outside the box – considering that people will soon be able to buy directly through unboxing videos as well.

Lawrence Dodds is client director at UM