The increasing number of digital touchpoints is making it more complex to deliver a unified customer experience. More and more questions are being raised about content distribution, data sources and automation. Which technical foundation do you need to create a connected commerce experience?
Rising customer expectations are no longer limited to one or two digital channels alone. Customers expect the same quality and content on marketplaces, social media, messenger apps and a webstore, for example. Before you know it, voice-controlled devices will be so common that an initial voice proof of concept will no longer be enough. The connected commerce experience that people are (implicitly) asking for, anticipates customer needs and gives customers the feeling of getting one-to-one attention.
This is raising new questions at companies who are striving to achieve this connected commerce experience. For example, how should their content be distributed consistently and efficiently? And how can data sources and automation help in that regard? We have noticed that the commerce experience is very dependent on the right technical foundation, even though the customer and business requirements must certainly not be ignored.
Modern commerce requires a headless base layer. An all-in-one sales platform used to be the standard, but now a headless architecture is decoupling the components. The most visible part – the front-end – has been split from the backend, and the experience and e-commerce functionality have also been separated. The various components are linked with APIs.
In practice, this offers far more flexibility to respond quickly to market needs or developments. Because front-end designers and developers are no longer tied to the template structure of an all-in-one solution, they have far more freedom to develop an interface that suits the channel in question. For example, they focus on web design, voice interface or the appearance of a progressive web app, and they upload the necessary data or functionalities with an API. All conceivable channels can be connected with an API access port, which makes innovation far easier. This also gives options to set up a website for each brand, a mini site for each product category or a completely new sales channel fast and easy.
In order to offer customers a consistent experience on all digital channels, you can put a Digital Experience Platform (DXP) layer on top. DXP solutions such as BloomReach and Adobe provide CMS functionality and publish content too. The content can be reused across the channels, which means that customers receive coordinated content and a unified brand experience whenever they come into contact with the brand. A DXP tends to be integrated with a data platform, so the content can be personalised. All in all, it creates a connected commerce experience.
When you look at the setup of a digital store platform, you will see how certain click and order behaviour leads to different views. For example, a marketer or merchandiser may choose to show everyone who is interested in red dresses other red clothes as well. Or they may use customer data to predict other items the customer may be interested in. For example, each first ‘block’ may contain an item from the dress category, block five may contain a blog article targeted to the customer and block ten may contain a sales item. Other customers may be more interested in customer reviews, and yet others may prefer to make their purchasing decisions based on videos and will mainly get to see that content.
The marketer can finally use products and content to create one big picture. Of course, the DXP does not only provide a different layout or sequence. It can also adjust the image materials and copy on the product details page. It is true that a conventional CMS also offers the necessary options to link pages together. For example, a blog and a product can be linked in the background and then be shown as relevant on each other's pages. However, a DXP is automated with a self-learning algorithm and takes into account the business value at a personal level. It allows you to experiment and actively analyse customer requirements: for example, you can use A/B testing to compare alternative journeys and content views.
Brewing company Carlsberg has implemented the new strategy in a similar way. It had a digital platform developed to better support B2B business customers and increase engagement. It analysed customer journeys and experience maps to identify customer problems and needs in various areas. In terms of e-commerce, for example, it decided to adopt principles from the B2C world: personalisation and recommendations based on someone's role in the organisation are now helping to improve the experience and operating result.
A growing number of companies are choosing to provide a personalised experience with the experience layer. That raises the question of where they actually start. One of the basic requirements is structured product data, so it is important to sort out the PIM or MDM solution first. The digital strategy then offers guidance on finding opportunities. What are the current customer journeys like and what are triggers for buying and not buying in certain places? The places that customers abandon can be a good starting point to deploy commerce and the Digital Experience Platform and to replace the front-end of the channel with a personalised layer.
The challenge lies in the final structure of the algorithm, because a self-learning mechanism will need information to make the appropriate predictions. The improvement will accelerate during promotions, which generate traffic, and after data requests. It would also be great if DXP users could exchange (anonymised) insights with each other in the future. This way, the development of connected commerce leads to the most consistent journey possible. It creates an experience that anticipates the customer's needs, regardless of the channel the customer has chosen.
Ellen Bex, Head of Customer Engagement at Osudio, SQLI Group