The 'e' is silent
esilent (1)

Looking back, it used to be easy. You built awareness, drove consideration, and generally propelled the consumer down the tried-and-true sales funnel. Things didn’t change that much when eCommerce became part of the mix. Digital was a fraction of the sales pie, and anyway, the physical store and digital shopping cart were in different universes.

Well, we can kiss that nice, clear world goodbye. eCommerce has exploded, growing by 18% a year while overall US retail sales have limped along at 2.4% growth. That digital fraction has grown to a healthy 8% of all retail sales, and fueling that growth is mobile, which makes up 15% of that. With numbers like this, you can see that most retailers consider it mandatory to be in both the physical and the digital commerce worlds. Just existing in both bricks and clicks isn’t enough. And having separate and disintegrated experiences works against natural consumer behavior. Competitive advantage will go to those retailers who offer seamless, omni-channel experiences. Eighty percent (yes you read that right) of shoppers are more likely to become loyal consumers to a brand offering a seamless cross-channel experience, as Walgreens has discovered to its benefit. Its omni-channel consumers spend a remarkable 6 times the amount as its bricks-only customers do.

If the digital and physical retail worlds are merged (which they are) and the consumer will reward a seamless union between them (which she will), why are we dividing up the world into eCommerce, mCommerce, and physical retail?

I don’t know about everybody else, but we’re not.

We’ve made the “e” in eCommerce silent. To us, all commerce, no matter where it happens or what form it takes, is just that: commerce. And there’s a lot that goes into making it successful. From activation and package design to demand generation and supply chain, it’s all part of the commerce landscape. Commerce is no longer sharply delineated in time or space—you’re not in one mode on the couch, in another while getting to work, and in yet a third when you finally walk into a store, flip on your computer, or turn on your phone (like it’s ever off anyway). Nope, commerce is where you are at any given moment when you decide to search, shop, compare, or buy. Commerce is everywhere, all the time. Commerce is continuous.

That grand pronouncement may seem simple on its face, but consider what Continuous Commerce™ means.

  1. Omni-channel: continuity for the brand and the consumer across multiple channels, devices and locations to enable sales anytime, anywhere. There are innumerable consumer entry points to commerce (social, web, mobile, kiosks, and more), and it is proven that the more opportunities you give a consumer to buy, the more she will. It could be argued that all marketing communications elements should have an opportunity to buy—a web banner, a kiosk, even a billboard.

  1. Relationship: whether new to the brand or loyal advocate, continually tailored to the individual. Right now, most eCommerce sales are tactical. Why not create a relationship with that consumer, and tap into his or her lifetime value? Omni-channel consumers are much more valuable and more likely to become loyal. So retailers need sophisticated omni-channel CRM to nurture that relationship.

  1. Experience: an experience that will delight at every touch-point. Brands must deliver experiences that are continuous across channels, as I said above. The consumer doesn’t see “store” and “site.” He sees a single brand, and he expects a harmonious experience between them. If he buys something online, but wants to wear it today, he expects to be able to pick it up at the store. If they don’t have his size at the store, he expects the clerks to ship one to him at no cost.

These three steps create a holistic shopping experience for the consumer… and a headache for brands and retailers. Making continuous commerce happen is not easy. It isn’t just a new way of thinking—it’s a new way of working, too. In an organization where online is one department, in-store is another, and mobile is yet a third, fragmentation is inevitable, especially when multiple agency partners are thrown into the mix. A Continuous Commerce™ world is going to require enterprise-level rethinking to unlock the true lifetime value of the omni-channel consumer.

Find more articles on Continuous Commerce™ here.

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