The debate around what consumers want has increasingly become skewed towards creating online experiences and content, more so for the current generation and largely for the current consumer.
Social media has grown from a pass time to a communication platform, and then to a business tool. Soon, it will become a money transfer tool and people will no longer need phones as they will be able to make calls from social media – all thanks to recent innovations by Facebook.
The struggle for brands however is still the question on combining online and offline worlds for product marketing. The end game of the technological transformation should be to make consumers lives easier both online and offline. Michael Abrash, Chief Scientist at Facebook’s Oculus terms this future as an ‘always-on, go-everywhere mixed reality’ setting.
Presently, there exists a disconnect between what consumers want and what brands think they want especially when talking about online experiences. The gap exists because the present online setting is not giving consumers the same experience offline. The online experience and offline experience needs to be harmonized. The current scenario is muddled in a digital obsession, but by brands.
Case in point, IBM recently conducted a survey asking consumers to name the most important thing to them when engaging with brands. Majority of the responses collected were consistent around the need for brands to be quick and more convenient. In the same study, brands were asked the same question on behalf of their customers. Brands all had the same thinking – their customers wanted more digital experiences because the present day consumer is more “digital savvy” and the consumer also wants more control of how they consume a product or service.
The point of departure between what brands want and what consumers want from the IBM survey is the clear fact that brands assume technology is more important than utility. And this is exactly why brands are assuming online is the answer to all their problems while consumers just want their lives to be made easier and their problems solved.
More often than not, digital success stories have focused on brands that have successfully moved offline sales into online sales; using online tools. The case studies presented focus on enabling ecommerce, online advertising budget spends and having a social care network where consumers can get customer service. If you take a critical look at the examples, what we term as digital growth was actually necessitated by the existing operating environments of the digital space. No transformation took place. The digital world only matured. Transformation should not focus on digital at all but rather should be focused around the customer – who lives both online and offline.
The microwave generation has consistently been profiled as living in a digital bubble while the reality is that they live both online and offline. When asked about how digital affects them, they don’t even seem to know they are affected because the people asking the question are the ones truly affected. Truth is they themselves in the digital age given the time they were born but they would still like to experience the world before the digital age. They have also grown up with information and convenience and therefore do not know how to live without it.
When asked if they prefer to shop online, they said they still like to visit stores to shop. They browse online and then visit stores. Out of convenience, they shop online. Their preference however is to visit a stall where they are sure they will get what they are looking for. They have redefined convenience. While at the mall, they turn the visits into multi media events using their phones. This is the perfect description of a consumer stuck between an online and offline world. Online, they want convenience of being sure that they go where they will find the product, but they still want the offline experience of going into a store to get it.
Online vs. offline customer journey
The existing online customer journey requires a multitude of apps – Google for price comparison, WhatsApp for a friend’s opinion, a banking app to check your bank balance, Mpesa to transact and some human intervention through Uber to track your deliver or through a rider to deliver your order. The alternative would be to compare prices, seek a friend’s opinion, check your banking app, then join a queue to transact.
Fashion retailer Superdry has tried to make the online and offline experience to its store a lot more quick and convenient. The retailer has installed a “smart mirror” at its flagship store in Berlin, allowing shoppers to virtually try on items from its collection. The mirror uses body tracking to capture the motion of the user and replicate it through their reflection, a computer animated character who is able to wear a range of apparel, all while standing in front of the mirror. When not in use, the mirror becomes a dynamic aspect of the store design that showcases the collection.
This is a creative example of a fulfilling online offline experience. The customers’ needs of quick and convenient are met. They won’t need to try on all the clothes in the store for hours on end and at the same time, they get to see and feel what they are purchasing.
A full online experience, in an online world however would use virtual reality or augmented reality to achieve this same retail experience. A pair of augmented reality glasses or on any device that allows this feature would allow the consumer to generate reviews, get into a virtual changing room and try on the clothes, send the image to a friend for an opinion. On check out, request for an account balance, allow a transaction and send a receipt via email. This process would be a matter of minutes.
Transforming consumer experiences therefore still boils down to solving a customer problem by giving them more information than what they can see and offering a value added ‘experience’ instead of trying to bend the consumer into a new behavior.
Consumers are already in the online offline gap and therefore making their experiences on that front even easier will enhance product uptake. Networks like Snapchat are already giving the enhanced selfie experiences with augmented reality lenses, location based experiences and other functionalities attracting over 150 million daily users. Pokémon Go has enriched the mobile-gaming experience by adding entertainment to people’s everyday lives and became the most downloaded app of 2016 in the Apple App Store.
Augmented Reality (AR) though still in its infancy stage in terms of solving customers’ problems, will bring the real online transformation. Businesses using periscope are currently providing virtual tours of stores and allowing customers to shop without having to sift through hundreds of tabs on sites. AR catalogues from furniture stores also allow customers to visualize furniture in different places before making a purchasing decision.
Augmented reality will therefore enhance or solve consumer problems and enhance the consumer experience. Imagine visiting a store via periscope. You know, that you know, that you know, that the yellow flower pot sits right next to the isle with the window, but you have never physically been to the store. This kind of transformation does not need a radical business transformation but rather an online transformation and organizing the business around the consumer needs. Brands have already mastered digital maturity. Bringing the online and offline experience online would create a new age consumer whose needs of a mixed reality are met in one place. That’s what will revolutionize today’s consumer journey making it more seamless and more convenient.