“Please, not another buzzword,” I hear you cry. “I’m still trying to absorb the last ten years’ worth of marketing jargon and acronyms.”
But before you run off, let me tell you about an ecommerce trend that will actually help you better sell to customers and ensure their (undying) loyalty. Every B2C marketer needs to know about contextual commerce.
Contextual commerce harnesses another trend you’ve probably heard a lot about—omnichannel. Consumers want to shop anytime, anywhere, on any device, through multiple channels — and not necessarily in a linear fashion.
If your customers notice any friction as they switch between channels while engaging with your brand, then you’re in trouble. You want your buyers to have a perfectly smooth and consistent experience, no matter the channel. That’s why contextual commerce is so important in B2C marketing.
What is contextual commerce?
Contextual commerce allows consumers to purchase products from wherever they are, at any given moment— while reading a news article, on social media, via a chatbot, in a search engine, and so on— without having to stop what they are doing, go to your website, app or even brick-and-mortar store to carry out that transaction.
Social networks have already been working on what has been termed contextual commerce 1.0 for a few years. Some early examples include:
- The “Shop Now” button on Instagram ads, which allows you to make purchases directly from within the app.
- Buyable pins on Pinterest, which have been around since 2015.
However, contextual commerce has already moved on to version 2.0 and offers even better functionality for your ecommerce buyers.
Contextual commerce 2.0
Contextual commerce is now all about chatbots. With the explosion in the use of messaging apps (1.2 billion Facebook Messenger users in April 2017), brands and retailers have started to use artificial intelligence to power chatbots that allow shoppers to interact with brands in a conversational and immediate way. Chatbots also allows buyers to browse and purchase products right from within the app.
In April 2017, Mastercard launched an AI-powered chatbot on Facebook Messenger that allows a customer to shop directly from within the Facebook app — even paying via Masterpass. A customer could buy from a number of key retailers, including FreshDirect, Subway, and The Cheesecake Factory.
How can contextual commerce improve loyalty?
Contextual commerce can have a major effect on customer loyalty for ecommerce organizations. As competing on price is a no go— as we’ve said it before, it’s a battle you’re unlikely to win— you need to differentiate your brand in other ways.
Providing the kind of convenient and easy overall shopping experience that contextual commerce provides can be the major differentiator that ensures better loyalty. Take Dutch airline KLM. introduced a service via Facebook Messenger that starts a chat (with the customer’s permission) that sends booking confirmation, flight status, and scheduling changes directly through the app. In addition, it can help to resolve issues and rebook flights.
Instead of making customers go to multiple places to carry out these different transactions and tasks, enter passwords multiple times, and even download a brand-specific app, KLM provides a frictionless experience to solve customer pain points all in a familiar place.
Contextual commerce is all about understanding what they want and adapting your business and the channels through which you sell to their needs, not vice versa.
How can I implement contextual commerce in my business?
Before going all out and building your own chatbot or emailing Facebook to see if you can get in on the Messenger partnership, you first need to put contextual commerce into the context of your own business.
To truly enable contextual commerce in your business, you need to do the following:
Use data to understand where your customers live
Here we don’t mean loitering outside their apartment, but rather finding out which sites or apps they use most. That way, you can be where they already spend time, rather than trying to entice them into your website or app.
You already have a ton of data on your customers, as well as other consumers who have interacted with your brand in the past, but haven’t completed purchases. You should use this data to understand the typical buyer’s journey. For example, you need to know where a typical customer might start out, what resources they might use along the way, where they drop off, what the problems were when they dropped out, and so on.
Many of your buyers may even have multiple online identities, which can make it harder to understand. But if you can understand what your customers are looking for, and the context around that, then you can provide better loyalty offers that don’t just focus on price. To do this, you need a holistic view of customers and integrated back-end technology to bring all the data together.
Take Uber’s partnership with Hilton Hotels. The brand actually allows customers to check in from the car on their way to the hotel. Through the Uber app, they have information on where their customer currently is, as well as where they are going, and the amount of time it will take to get there. They can use this contextual information to have a digital room key ready for them the moment they arrive at the hotel. This is a huge differentiator and makes the experience of staying at a Hilton far more convenient.
Invest in omnichannel commerce and payments
To truly beat your competitors, you need to reach the stage where consumers don’t even think about the technology behind the purchase and are instead completely focused on the product they are buying. This requires an investment in omnichannel commerce and technologies to ensure that your brand can keep up with the preferences of your customers, no matter where they are shopping. This could be mobile wallets or buy buttons on social networks — whatever provides a frictionless buying experience. There are also emerging ecommerce technologies that allow merchants to embed commerce options into their partner websites, meaning that customers don’t have to continually re-enter passwords.
Build your online brand
If contextual commerce really takes off, then consumers will visit individual brands’ websites and apps less and less. This means if you want consumers to buy from you, they need to already provide experiences that engage and have a brand that they care about. This can be a challenge for some newer brands that are just getting into the space.
The idea is to shorten the time that the customer spends from initial engagement to an actual purchase and to do that you need to provide an experience that they will remember (or at least they won’t remember for any negative moments). This is also where the idea of customer journey comes in, as you understand better how they interact with your brand at each touchpoint and are on hand to make the purchase experience as easy as possible when they are ready to buy.
By putting this all together, you can use the customer data you already have in a meaningful way. Contextual commerce helps to better serve the where and how your buyers want to shop, ensuring that the shopping experience you provide is convenient, quick, and easy. Then, you can improve customer loyalty, and compete with Amazon in a way that doesn’t involve price.