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Beyond “headless commerce:" What else is on the horizon for ecommerce?

Grant Oyston
Product Marketing Manager
Customer Service | 11 min read

Innovative ecommerce brands are looking for the next leap forward into a digital future. And those with their finger on the pulse know it’s “ headless commerce .” With over $1.65 billion in funding raised for headless commerce technologies over the last two years, the potential certainly warrants excitement. 

Because of the buzz, there’s already such a great body of work detailing this trend, so I wanted to look elsewhere to find other data-backed trends that ecommerce brands need to know about.

As a consultant, I’m lucky enough to talk to the people leading innovation and growth at some of the most forward-thinking ecommerce brands in the world every day. I get to learn about how they’re thinking about and adapting to big industry trends. That, coupled with industry and analyst reports, forms the basis of this article.

What you’re about to read is three main trends that smart ecommerce leaders should be keeping an eye on. This isn’t instead of trends like headless commerce or omni-channel shopping (that you’re already reading a lot about too), but rather a complement to them. 

So let’s get into it: what’s changing, how are brands responding, and what does it mean for you?

Your people want more from their jobs

If you’re a CS leader, you probably don’t need me to tell you that there’s a labor shortage. People are looking for jobs that not only pay better, but that offer greater fulfillment and opportunities for career growth. And with the cost of acquiring new customers continuing to rise, brands should shift focus on customer retention and lifetime values. This means investing more in the customer experience and the customer experience team.

Without happy, empowered employees delivering great experiences, it’s virtually impossible to attain high CSAT and improve customer loyalty. To retain top talent in your support team, think about creating more specialized roles, including training your best employees in new technologies to help them grow their impact within your team.

“Look at your employees in a different way, not just as store staff, because that mundanity gets to everyone. Use technology to empower your store employees, as opposed to replacing them.”
- Future of Commerce, Shopify

Ada ecommerce clients have already started applying this thinking by promoting their top-performing sales and support reps to become bot managers and conversational designers. It makes perfect sense: take the folks who are having great, high-impact conversations with your customers every single day, and empower them to take charge of the Automated Brand Interaction (ABI) strategy. Ada’s no code, drag-and-drop interface puts them in the driving seat, so they can completely own the customer experience, without reliance on IT.

The extra benefit? By automating away the high-volume, low-impact questions like “Where’s my order,” (which accounts for the majority of ecommerce brand interactions!) support staff can focus on more exciting and impactful customer interactions, like becoming personal shopping assistants and sales consultants to drive up revenue.

Shapermint is a very good example of this. With the help of ABI, live agents drove a 50% increase in sales versus the previous year, while keeping live agent queue times under 20 seconds.

Key takeaway: Giving your support teams more meaningful work, access to the right tech, and an opportunity for growth will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

You need to find new ways to get to know your customers

When your business started way back when, it only had a few customers, and most of them were probably your founder’s friends and family. Everyone got super personalized, one-on-one service — so luxe!

But that approach doesn’t scale, and assuming your customer count has hit at least four digits now, you probably haven’t met them all at this point. No worries — savvy marketers have lots of tools at their disposal to source third-party data about the people landing on their website…or at least, they did.

New privacy regulations and browser restrictions on third-party cookies are making it harder than ever to get reliable data from your own website. And anyway, audience segmentation based on digital profiles sold by data brokers is often wildly inaccurate .

It’s no surprise then that Gartner analysts predict that by 2025, 80% of marketers will abandon personalization efforts. But Grant! Personalization is one of the major pillars of a VIP customer experience! How can we do that if we can’t get any data on our customers?

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There is an answer. First, let’s break down the primary ways you might currently be collecting customer information:

  • First-party data: information you can learn from a user’s behavior on your website, like what they click and how long they spend on each page
  • Second-party data: buying data from a company that had originally collected it (ie, buying their own first-party data)
  • Third-party data: buying data from large data aggregators that pull it from other platforms and websites where it was generated

Now let’s look at the future, the new gold standard in data for which our friends at Forrester have coined the term: zero-party data. Zero-party data is any information the consumer proactively shares with you. For the marketers in the room, just imagine if you could ask every person landing on your website a few quick questions, and then use their answers to target all your messaging for that shopper going forward.

“[Zero-party data is] Data that a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand, which can include preference center data, purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize her.”
- Forrester

But how can you do that at scale? With conversational AI.

Using proactive messaging delivered by a brand interaction platform like Ada, brands are able to build trust and rapport with natural conversation and get to know more about what brought each customer to their site today. Smart brands will use this data to enrich existing customer profiles and target future marketing campaigns, like triggering email sequences, based on these conversations.

Key takeaway: Leverage AI interaction tech to have more conversations with customers, and collect zero-party data that can enrich the customer experience.

Your customers will always want better ordering experiences

Okay, confession time: I’m a craft cider snob. Probably uncool of me to admit, but I needed to reveal this to set the stage for a memorable experience I had with Revel Cider , a tiny little cidery in Guelph, Canada with only a few employees. On the day of delivery of my most recent order, I got a text message with a link so I could actually watch the delivery van en route to my home, with a minute-by-minute update on the ETA. If I needed to provide delivery instructions on where to leave the package, I could text back and my message would get passed on to the driver.

Ever since, every other ecommerce purchase I’ve made has felt lacking. If a little cider company in Guelph can provide me with minute-by-minute updates and the ability to text instructions directly to my delivery driver, why can’t Amazon? And for that matter, why can’t I text my bank when I have a question too?

As even small businesses embrace cutting edge technology, big companies need to step up or get left behind. It’s fair to assume that customers will always want better, faster, more personalized experiences, and if they have a fantastic experience with one brand, they’ll expect it from everyone else — and be let down when they don’t get it.

Post-purchase automation tools can send regular updates to customers throughout picking, packaging, and shipping. Then when a package is delivered, they can solicit feedback about the delivery and product itself, as well as offering any assistance if needed.

“It’s up to your business to clearly communicate when a product is going to leave a warehouse and when it’s going to arrive at the customer’s doorstep. Don’t expect customers to check tracking numbers on a third party carrier site after they place their order.”
- Future of Commerce , Shopify

Key takeaway: Brands should over-communicate, not under-communicate. If my cider isn't going to make it in time for happy hour, let me know ASAP so I can make other plans!

Wrapping to all up

It’s essential for ecommerce leaders to keep their eyes on the major shake-ups on the horizon, but that shouldn’t distract you from what’s right under your nose. The most successful leaders are the ones who can see the big picture as well as all the individual pieces making it up.

Here’s the recap:

  • Your people want more from their jobs. Giving your support teams more meaningful work, access to the right tech, and opportunities for growth will have a positive impact on your bottom line.
  • You need to find new ways to get to know your customers. Leverage AI interaction tech to have more conversations with customers, and collect zero-party data that can enrich the customer experience.
  • Your customers will always want better ordering experiences. Brands should over-communicate, not under-communicate.

So as you prepare for headless ecommerce and put systems in place that support omni-channel shopping, think about the different ways these other trends will affect your brand and how you interact. It’s all connected, and if you can pull all these levers simultaneously, your brand will be unstoppable.

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