As we close out 2018, there’s a lot of new experiences (like checkout-free stores), surprising acquisitions (like the Amazon/Whole Foods merger) and more to reflect on and leverage for the year ahead. In 2018, brands experimented more freely with voice and video technology, leveraged AI to improve customer experiences and took bigger steps towards unifying their commerce strategies. Every year brands raise the bar for improved commerce experiences. As standards rise, so do customer expectations. With 2019 upon us, here are the big developments from last year that will have major implications in the year ahead:
- Frictionless commerce becomes the norm We’ve seen a clear example of this shift in the quick serve restaurant space, with brands embracing mobile and online ordering to enable the most frictionless commerce interactions. Think about the last time you waited in line at a Starbucks — you might have felt like quite the schmuck ordering at the counter while everyone else walked in and out with their mobile orders. Domino’s, a leader in this regard, even boasted that it aims to become a fully digital-only brand — a future that’s likely for more of these players than you might think.
On a broader level, 2019 will bring heightened expectations around seamless payment options. Apple Pay currently boasts 252 million users, and newer options like Amazon Pay are picking up steam. And of course, Amazon’s Go locations are setting a new standard for checkout-free experiences in brick-and-mortar locations. With these innovations exciting American consumers, brands with clunky purchase paths will suffer in 2019.
- More Americans embrace voice technology 2018 began with the revelation that 39 million American consumers — or 16 percent of the population — own smart devices like Amazon Alexa. As Facebook enters the fold with its Portal product, you can bet that we’ll see more brands experiment with voice-activated devices like Alexa. Consumers are growing more comfortable using these devices, and it’s likely that products like Amazon’s new voice-activated microwave will proliferate in 2019.
That said, while smart devices are growing more popular, they still haven’t drastically changed consumer shopping habits. In fact, only two percent of Alexa owners have used the device to shop, with 90 percent of those shoppers only using it once. This indicates that customers are open-minded to the novelty of voice-driven shopping, but brands aren’t offering the advanced experiences to make it worth it. The brands that can adapt to this new channel first and create unique, exciting and easy voice experiences will triumph as more Americans use voice-activated devices.
- Video will explode across verticals The days of awkward dial-in conference calls are coming to an end. Data shows that 74 percent of businesses report they’ve increased their use of video technology in the last two years, and 84 percent use more than one cloud-based video solution. Services like Zoom, GoTo Conference and OwlLabs are reshaping how people conduct business on a daily basis.
This reflects a wider adoption of video technology in consumers’ daily lives, which is probably why Apple added the option for group Facetime calls this year. The cultural shift towards video communication can’t be ignored by brands. At one point will customers prefer to hop on a video call with a cable company to troubleshoot issues? When will we video chat personal shoppers from Nordstrom while trying to put together an outfit? We saw this idea emerge years ago with Amazon’s now-shuttered Mayday service, which allowed customers to instantly video chat with representatives for support. This may have been a bit too far ahead of its time, but you can bet we’ll see more of this in 2019. Clearly, quite a lot can happen in a year. Coming into 2019, we’ll see a groundswell in voice and video interactions that will fundamentally shift how consumers engage with brands. Unlike the disruptive shift to mobile, this is so far out of left field of what we brands are accustomed to that most brands will struggle to adapt. That said, the brands that master engaging and seamless commerce experiences will dominate the market — in 2019 and beyond.