The author of the material tells how American retailers and technology companies compete with each other, opening up new and developing existing channels of interaction with consumers.
Modern department stores - intermediaries, who have been selling sellers and brands in one place for more than 160 years, as well as modern shopping and entertainment complexes that have been performing the same function for the past six decades, have been steadily losing traffic, sales and profits that they have taken since 2010. online competitors. Fewer customers means less sales and, as a result, less money to buy a new range. Reducing the range leads to the fact that buyers have less choice, and they start to leave. With the fall in attendance, the outlet becomes less and less interesting for brands that are always looking for distribution channels for their products. In the past two years, we have seen how this 7-year-old whirlpool of
this physical physical stores sink to the bottom has rapidly accelerated. As a result, the 20 largest traditional retailers in the total lost $ 230 billion of their market value from May 2015 to June 2017.
At the same time, if you look at the situation with traditional specialized digital marketplaces like eBay, which once held the situation in their niches under control, then they are also trying their best to keep afloat.Facebook
, The RealReal
and others made their way into the secondary market, popularized by their peer Amazon eBay in the late nineties. Aggregators like Wayfair
z and One Kings Lane
select and recommend to their visitors products and services in niche segments such as household goods and accessories and put up for sale new, vintage or antique items, in the old days available only on eBay or from traditional retailers.
If once the Internet search was for consumers the gate to the world of shopping and brands, today Amazon has taken its place: according to statistics, 60% of consumers
now begin their search for purchases there. Only one important question remains unclear: do users make acquisitions in online stores found with Google or just use them as a guideline for comparing prices and assortment for the purpose of further purchase on Amazon?
Social sharing platforms like Pinterest
, which has gathered 200 million monthly active audiences, are trying their best to remove the barriers between simple “saving pins” with goods that visitors like and the ability to really get the thing they like. Such monetization is very desirable for these services, but so far they have failed to attract serious sellers to realize these ideas.
Aggregators of profitable offers like Groupon
collect local offers on their sites, which contribute to increasing consumer interest in purchasing goods and services offered by local businesses. The same is true of mobile apps offering price comparisons or all sorts of automatic cashbacks in an attempt to attract buyers and prevent cases of premature buying when the buyer is afraid of being late for the hot offer. In both cases, the creators of such services hope to turn the buyer who is looking for a profitable deal into a loyal client, but in reality the results are not as straightforward as we would like.
Meanwhile, the seemingly simple task of trying to integrate elements of selling goods or services into instant messengers, which are used by a huge number of potential buyers, did not have the desired effect and this kind of commerce did not gain any noticeable momentum.
The tendency to use applications as a gateway to the world of commerce has also not received significant growth.
And although consumers on average devote about three hours a day to mobile applications, the majority of smartphone owners spend the lion's share of their time in only 10 of the most consistent and most popular of them. This group includes social (Facebook, Instagram and, to a much lesser extent, Snapchat), music applications (Pandora, Spotify), video content platforms (YouTube and Netflix), utilities (Gmail, Chrome) and instant messengers (Facebook Messenger, iMessaging). In general, consumers are not as satisfied with applications as they once were: according to comScore, 51% of Americans do not download any new applications.
Approximately the same is with shopping apps. Consumers spend almost all their time in only two of them - Amazon, with an active monthly audience of 70 million users, and Walmart, a similar figure for which according to App Annie is 22 million people. The difference of these figures with the indicators of the closest competitors is comparable to the difference in the level of the Kitzbühel Alps
and their surrounding plains.
And of course, not to mention Amazon, which has turned its online platform into the mainstream online marketplace for a wide range of products, including even those that were previously bought only in physical stores, such as groceries, food or clothing. And soon, prescription drugs can probably be added to this list. Amazon Prime's participants, for which almost half of all US households are subscribed, are well known: they spend twice as much as other regular customers, and nearly three-quarters of this category make purchases at Amazon at least twice a month.
Visitors to the online showcases and Amazon counters know that here they can definitely buy what they came for, that sellers have a wide range of products, and that prices in this market are formed as a result of competition. Prime member can receive these products with free two-day delivery, and sometimes right on the same day.
Buyers definitely like this state of things, and they come again and again. In addition to old consumers, new ones appear, and as a result, this market becomes attractive for sellers who also want to get their piece of big pie. About half of the products sold on Amazon are provided by third-party vendors who once came to the platform and became part of this platform. Gradually, Amazon staked for more than 50% of all book sales, approached a 10% share in the clothing segment. In addition, almost a third of all toys and sporting goods are also bought on Amazon. With all this on the platform of the company now committed only 5% of all US retail sales, not counting cars.
The acquisition of Whole Foods Market
and the simultaneous launching and expansion of its own brands already suggest that Amazon has all the possibilities to radically change the balance of power on the 600 billion US grocery market, both online and offline. Now, it is Amazon that defines the image of modern omnichannel grocery stores, and traditional players in this market feel the consequences of the deal with Whole Foods on themselves. According to analysts
, their market capitalization fell by $ 12 billion after the transaction.
But the story of Whole Foods seems to be just the beginning.
Thanks to Amazon Restaurants
and the surprisingly widespread distribution of Amazon Pay
, the company's share of the food and entertainment market could grow even more. Announced at the beginning of the month the news about the likely appearance of her own online service of prescription medication orders provoked a sharp drop in shares of CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid.
Speaking about all this, we must bear in mind that we live in a time when the consumer changes his habits only if the goods or services for some reason become unavailable to him at all.
When consumers get into the store and do not find in it what they came for, they continue to search on the Internet to save time and avoid further disappointment. And yet, as the author wrote
earlier, they continue to visit the same stores as before, even if the merchant’s ability to provide them service across all channels leaves much to be desired. And no, even the most sophisticated and inventive marketing tricks, such as geo-targeting paired with sending push-notifications in real time, when a customer is in close proximity to a competitor's shop, contrary to the expectations of the latter, do not force buyers to change their habits.
It seems that the modern consumer prefers, as the Americans say, to deal with the devil, whom they know better.
Until recently, however, the battle of commercial intermediaries proceeded predominantly in the 'online versus offline' format. The winner was the one whose application was most often downloaded and used, who managed to make the ordering process in the application the most simple and understandable, who offered the most interesting products and could attract maximum views.
The struggle in this case is for users of mobile devices and views in applications or mobile versions of sites.
In this world, commercial intermediaries use a whole range of tools and technologies to attract attention: the same push-notifications mentioned above, purchase buttons, designed so that the buyer does not throw a full basket halfway to complete the order, or email marketing, allowing users learn about the appearance of new products or the start of sales, along with messages from sales representatives and images of new products.
However, it is not a group of commercial intermediaries or devices to access information that will become the main engines of commerce of tomorrow.
And again about commercial intermediaries
Ten years after the launch of the iPhone and twenty-two years after the birth of Amazon, we have thousands of applications, hundreds of aggregators, millions of merchants, dozens of players in the digital payment segment and thousands of innovators working overtime to optimize mobile commercial experience.
At the same time, consumers are offered completely new ways to access the brands they want to buy.
For example, they are offered voice control and virtual assistants connected to an ecosystem
that interconnects entire sets of Internet devices that are embedded in places and allow you to run cases that go beyond the simple use of smartphones. Among them are speakers (with and without displays), portable speakers, cars, household appliances, wearable devices and television, and this is only the beginning.
This new business opportunity looks fresh and new. They satisfy the need for consumers to closely integrate commerce into their daily lives. They encourage them to buy and use sets of AI-devices that can eliminate the monotony and dissatisfaction that accompany the traditional processes of shopping and payment.
The growing consumer interest in such approaches will help developers to stop paying so much attention to mobile applications that no one downloads anyway, and to start working towards developing skills and optimizing websites in order to provide access to these virtual assistants and the new ecosystems behind them.
These new commercial intermediaries will drastically change the existing commercial ecosystem, since they will make the key intermediary elements for it irrelevant.
Say “hello” to the release from intermediaries
Voice search, as well as its modern online counterpart, will begin with a product.
“I need a new pair of shoes. We are in Boston. The winter is coming".
In response, my virtual assistant may ask me a few clarifying questions about what I want, show several models with high ratings and price tags on the screen of the speaker system, and maybe even send a link to the application. Probably, I will even send him a photo of a couple who met me on the window during one of the morning runs and ask him to find it, because I don’t remember the name of the store and didn’t pay attention to the brand logo from afar.
I will choose the option that I like and ask her to place an order while doing my own business, such as cooking, walking the dog or going on the way to work.
And I will never have to tell a virtual assistant what shop does this pair of shoes sell or what payment method would I like to use.
And all because he already knows the answers to these questions, has already registered my billing information in his system and is able to recognize me with the help of a whole set of different data, depending on where I am and what device I use to interact with it.
He has already chosen a shop suitable for ordering. Perhaps the proposed option will also depend on advertising, the placement of which in the ecosystem of my voice assistant shop paid. Or, perhaps, a suitable local outlet has an agreement with it and offers a convenient deal for me, so that I can pick them up from there or get a very quick delivery.
Or he may offer me some incentive to use one or another payment method, which he monetizes in one way or another.
In other words, the store as such does not play a big role in my choice of shoes.
What really matters in this situation is an AI-optimized, personal voice assistant that has saved me time and is available through both applications and a number of devices that now support its work. He let me get what I needed safely and without unnecessary problems. And maybe even offered a few additional incentives that made the already excellent user experience even better.
In this scenario, brands prevail over retailers, except when both are played by the same company or if I am not offered some kind of motivation that would make retailers an important part of the decision-making process. The choice of payment method is subject to the influence of a personal assistant, which I use. It's okay that he does not make a purchase through my favorite digital wallet: I have a card issuer branded by the bank, one of which I have already registered in his ecosystem and which I will be glad to use. Devices become interchangeable items. I can freely switch between them, because the magic of the virtual assistant lies in the combination of software and services that provide me with what I need.
But this approach alone will not help virtual assistants to scale, and scaling, as you know, plays a crucial role in achieving success.
What really helps to do this is the ability to connect and make the most effective use of the existing ecosystem of buyers who store their data in it and vendors offering products that consumers want to buy on various platforms, that is, operating systems, devices, headsets and shopping channels .
Having come to this, the new commercial intermediaries will not only erase the border between the worlds of online and offline commerce, but also do the work at their intersection with a new imperative of the commerce market.
In light of all this, there are two players in a winning position on the market today. This pair of companies, quite possibly, represents the only truly significant commercial intermediaries of our days.
Amazon with Alex and Google with Allo
Presenting its product suite, Google seems to send a powerful signal indicating that the company intends to take seriously the world's most popular Android mobile OS, a huge advertising network, an online search platform, depth learning experience and AI, as well as a monthly active Chrome user base on Android and iOS devices in order to turn Allo into a current player on the new and largest line of the commercial market.
The Google and Walmart partnership agreement allowing buyers to use Google’s voice search for shopping at Walmart stores is nothing more than a tacit admission that the online search and the Google Home device alone are not enough to make Amazon a serious competition in the online segment. .
Equally important is this partnership for Walmart.
It is likely that the territorial retail network of Amazon’s main retail rival, the weekly 100 million attendance of its stores in the US, Jet.com and its other online assets (including Walmart.com), the growing user base of the Walmart Pay loyalty program, and a whole list of third-party vendors partners, together with the ability to call Allo at any time upon the first demand of a consumer with access to all this diversity, can create prerequisites for the maturing of a completely new commercial experience for consumers and those participating in that partnership sellers.
As for Amazon and Alexa, we covered this topic extensively and quite often. But Amazon begins this struggle in a completely different position: 85 million predominantly wealthy American consumers know the company, use its services and spend a lot of money on them. According to a report published in early October, 76% of sales of audio devices for voice control accounted for products that support Alexa. At the beginning of the year, this figure was only 10%. Also, according to analysts, 15 million devices are already in the houses. Recently it became known about the joint project of
Amazon and Sonos, aimed at strengthening the position in the market of high-tech audio systems, which Apple is targeting with its HomePod.
Amazon has successfully proven that it can satisfy a variety of online consumer requests. However, the acquisition of Whole Foods and the partnership agreement
recently concluded with Kohl's, in turn, represents a kind of tacit recognition that the physical presence in retail is still relevant. And the online giant uses similar opportunities, including in order to sell more Echo-devices.
Voice commerce and the intermediaries it creates are still at an early stage of development. Nevertheless, everyone who has at least something to do with the world of commerce should seriously think that future trends in the market will be determined by the relationship of consumers and virtual assistants. And in this sense, the role of two commercial intermediaries in these relations can be very large.
It is important to remember that those who thought that the online world will not become something more, or those who are now catching up with the mobile sphere have either already dropped out of the game or are struggling to survive. And those who do not perceive voice control as something frivolous or impractical, or do not understand where the combination of voice and visual Internet devices will lead consumers and players in the commerce market, are doomed to the same fate.
Regardless of which companies you are talking about - online payment services, payment gateways, retailers or various solution providers that have a direct or indirect relationship to the field of commerce - if determining what changes are coming in this area is not one of its main points strategy, there will be few reasons for celebrating a victory in 2019 and the following years.