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Digital Disruption: E-commerce Revolution & How to Be Future Ready When coupled with AI and ML innovations, these data sets will be able to predict consumer behavior to almost 100% accuracy

By Vikram Bhat

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For most of human history, people have been good at predicting future technologies. Today however, predicting things even just 5 years ahead seems to end up futile.

India is at the cusp of an e-commerce revolution. Although e-commerce has been making the rounds in the country for over a decade, it is in recent years that an appropriate ecosystem has begun to fall in place. Factors such as internet access, staggering penetration of mobile phones and robust investment have driven the growth of this industry and if current projections are anything to go by, India is en route to becoming the world's fastest growing e-commerce market.

For retailers caught between agile, well-funded competitors and rapidly changing consumer behaviour, digital transformation is the perfect leading light beacon for a safe and successful voyage into the future. If we were to trace any invention or innovation down the rabbit hole to its moment of inception, it most likely would have been sparked by a single factor: convenience.

On that note, one of the biggest disruptors in retail has been e-commerce. According to a report by IDC, in the month of December 2018, which is also the holiday season in the west, the e-commerce sector globally, has grown by 20 percent. In India, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and increase in FDIs, the e-commerce sector has scaled largely. Although there are several trends that are shaping the market today, some of the key trends that the companies in digital commerce should focus on in the future are below:

1. Intelligent digital assistants will become widespread

While the current set of AI assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana are impressive, the next generation of digital assistants is expected to be capable of almost human-like cognition. We are talking "HAL 9000' from 2001 a Space Odyssey and Samantha from "Her' levels of cognitive and reasoning capabilities. Will they become the conduit for AI to go into overlord mode and enslave humanity? Elon Musk seems to think so but we're not very sure. However, they definitely will have huge ramifications in the ecommerce and retail space.

Few brands have already started piloting AI-based assistants in their stores which are capable of offering personalized fashion tips based on the occasion, local weather conditions, facial and body contour, and latest trends.

2. The shift from 2D view to 3D view of customer

As consumers start engaging with newer technologies like wearables, connected cars and IoT-enabled appliances, the amount of customer data available to brands will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will accelerate the movement from the current 2D view of the customer to a 360-degree accurate view. When coupled with AI and ML innovations, these datasets will be able to predict consumer behaviour to almost 100% accuracy. The winners will leverage this data pool to build a persona for engaging with their customers in a contextually relevant and personalized way at every step in the shopping journey.

3. The pretzel-shaped shopping journey – From omni channel to omni verse

The traditional linear purchase journey is already on its leg and in the next 5 years, brands can expect it to be totally phased out. Thanks to the proliferation of wearables and connected devices, the consumers of the future will engage with brands across multiple platforms and devices in a pretzel-like twisted, crisscrossing loop. For instance, a customer walking into a retail store will be simultaneously comparing prices through his wearable smart glass.

Omni channel commerce is expected to become even more connected and seamless in a way that the individual blocks merge and finally fade into each other to create a unified real-time universe. For retailers, the key here is to maintain a connected, omni channel journey and be ready for channel disconnects and reconnects anywhere, anytime. This concurrent experience will involve consumers engaging with brands across digital and offline channels all at the same time.

4. Curated shopping experiences through hyper - personalization

We are already witnessing personalization in many forms, but it doesn't hold a candle to what is about to come. The barrage of data and the rise of complex AI systems will allow brands to develop accurate predictive models for recommendations and R&D for new development. Predictive analytics is expected to have widespread retail use-cases like loyalty programs, customer engagement, in-store experience and fulfilment. For example, a retail brand can devise a predictive model to generate a customized discount code for customers who are at the risk of switching to a competitor.

This will also be a win for consumers, as hyper personalisation will enable a seamless, dynamic and real-time shifting world of content created around them by intelligent algorithms that know them better than they know themselves. Shoppers will have instant access to delivery dates, lowest shipping cost, and the best discount codes for multiple retailers within seconds.

5. Fulfilment will become a major differentiator

With the rising demand for same-day delivery, outdated supply-chain processes will no longer be viable. The on-demand economy will force technology giants, logistic firms and retailers to combine forces to devise innovative delivery modes. Amazon recently explored delivery drones in the US, UK and Canada through Amazon Prime Air. Japanese brand Rakuten Air Map has launched an unmanned traffic management platform in the country. Alibaba, Amazon, UPS and Walmart are already experimenting with fully automated warehouses manned by an army of robots and drone delivery. Brands are also likely to engage futuristic transportation modes like hyperloops and autonomous travel pods to further optimize their logistics network.

6. Blurry lines between real and virtual worlds

Companies like Next/Now, INDE and Groove Jones, are working to bring to life screenless digital projections and holograms on to the real world; rendering reality almost indistinguishable from the digital.

Technologies have proven to hold a massive impact and use-cases in ecommerce and retail landscape by easing purchase frictions by empowering consumers to negate the guesswork. A case in point is the Pepperfry app, which has the ability to project life-like furniture in your living room to check if it matches the decor.

The Future of Ecommerce Is Already Here. In retail and ecommerce sector "Business as usual is business no more". Retail leaders are facing a world of opportunity to evolve or perish, with increasing competition in the e-commerce market, players who are able to adapt and innovate in the face of these changes will be in a better position for success.

Choice isn't tomorrow. It's today. Direct and meaningful connections to customers that include but extend far beyond mere products. Are you ready?

Vikram Bhat

Chief Product Officer at Capillary Technologies

Vikram Bhat comes with 19 years of experience and over 15 years in product management, Vikram has worked in domains spanning e-commerce, retail, supply chain and fintech. Prior to Capillary, he was the CPO at leading ecommerce and fintech startups like Myntra, ABOF and Lendingkart, where he focused on creating unique, differentiated and high-conversion fashion shopping experiences. This included shoppable fashion stories, virtual trial rooms, AI assistant-led shopping, and instant return-refund flows. 

Vikram spent over a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area working as a product manager with organisations ranging from startups to MNC's like Oracle. Before diving into product management, he worked as a functional architect in the US and implemented omni-channel order management solutions for customers like Bestbuy and Hallmark.

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