At Sitecore Symposium 2022, guest keynote speaker Mindy Kaling shared a piece of poignant, yet simple advice that seems perfectly suited for today’s hyper-connected — and subsequently, hyper-complicated — business landscape: “Be the best you can. And if you know better, then do better.”
When it comes to getting commerce right in the experience age, “knowing better” is something that three highly experienced professionals understand deeply: Microsoft’s Senior Director of Strategy, Mike Edmonds, Wunderman Thompson’s CTO of Americas, Cleve Gibbon, and Sitecore’s VP of Commerce and Platform Product, Jake Hookom. And to help organizations “do better,” the trio explored how leading brands are earning loyalty by consistently personalizing experiences for customers in their breakout session, “Getting it right: Commerce in the experience age”.
E-commerce and experiences on the minds of executives
An analysis of earning call mentions over the last couple of years has revealed that business leaders around the world are focusing heavily on “e-commerce” and “experiences” (and related terms). For instance, in the first quarter of 2017, these terms were discussed 58 times, while in the first quarter of 2022 the frequency jumped to 131 times — a surge of 129%.
Earnings call mentions of “e-commerce” and “experience” and related terms Q1 2017 to Q1 2022. Source: CB Insights
Although there is increasing awareness among brands that delivering exceptional customer experience is important — and some would say essential — most customers are not especially impressed by the digital properties they visit. In fact, 64% of customers say it’s rare for them to come across a website that makes them feel unique, or offers unexpectedly positive features and functionality. What’s more, when explicit brand cues are removed from headers, half of customers cannot tell the difference between one brand and another in the context of an e-commerce experience.
Commodities, despite capabilities
What happens when customers can no longer distinguish between brands? E-commerce becomes e-commodity, and all that matters (or more precisely, all that is perceived to matter) is price. This isn’t just problematic for brands, it can be catastrophic. Being seen as a commodity is, as the old saying goes, a race to the bottom.
Yet despite this, when it comes to capabilities, there have never been more robust and available e-commerce solutions for brands of all sizes to take advantage of. And so, what is the disconnect? Why are so many brands struggling to optimize customer experience and set themselves apart from the competition?
The core problem is that many brands are attempting to stich various e-commerce tools and systems together in a way that feels very safe. However, rather than distinguishing themselves and delighting their customers, this approach is hurling brands into what Microsoft’s Edmonds dubs “a sea of sameness.”
3 key trends
How can brands stand out in the (dreaded) sea of sameness? The answer is rooted in three key trends: The dispersion of experience, supply chain and moments of delight, and the MACH movement.
The dispersion of experiences
E-commerce experiences are no longer happening just on a website, on a mobile app, or within a brick-and-mortar environment. Customers are engaging with brands across an ever-growing set of touchpoints. This is putting immense pressure on brands to be where customer is, and then create moments that matter across journeys in a very competitive space.
Supply chain and moments of delight
Historically, supply chain and customer experience were typically handled by two different groups in-house, which focused on distinct groups of people. Yet, forward-thinking brands are revisiting this traditional paradigm, and realizing that supply chain orchestration plays a pivotal role in identifying customer needs and driving memorable experiences. Rather than working in silos, supply chain and customer experience can and should work hand-in-hand.
The MACH movement
The MACH movement (microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native, and headless) is a critical path that leading organizations have embarked on (or are in the process of embarking on). This enables brands to be competitive, agile, flexible, and meet customers where they are in this moment of dispersion — ultimately creating amazing, memorable experiences.
The role of sustainability and commerce capabilities
The next question for brands is: how do you establish a sustainable omnichannel experience strategy? The answer is to invest in the customer journey on two fronts:
- The ability to acquire buyers from other channels through equal investment in brand awareness across channels via content and paid advertising strategies.
- The ability to drive repeat buyers from those channels through seamlessly personalized fulfilment and support.
What this essentially means is that when brands look at e-commerce, they need to explore how they can break out of the conventional “let us re-launch the storefront” cycle (which is much easier said than done given the immense amount of work involved), and instead focus on the strategies and opportunities highlighted earlier – meeting customers where they are to create amazing experiences, leveraging synergies between supply chain and customer experience teams, and embracing MACH.
Roadmap of sustainable growth
The journey to sustainable growth typically starts with the milestone that brands are most familiar with: launching (and re-launching) a storefront. However, as Sitecore’s Hookom pointed out, it should not end there. Rather, it should evolve across a roadmap that culminates in delighting customers and driving ongoing growth through personalization.
The first three milestones on the roadmap are foundational needs, and include:
- Comprehensive understanding to mirror business needs
- Frictionless growth through cloud-native technology
- API-first composability to integrate old and new systems
- Ready to expand into other markets and audiences
The latter three milestones in the roadmap are experience needs, and include:
- Real-time AI for search relevance and merchandizing
- Merchandizer agility to promote and target buyers
- Marketing automation to enable revenue recovery and loyalty
- Optimization of experience through A/B experimentation
Best practices on getting it right
What are the proven best practices that brands can rely on to shape, guide, and accelerate their journey of optimizing commerce in the experience age? Gibbon highlighted five core principles for success, demonstrated by leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Con Ed, Colgate, and Honda:
Invest in understanding today and designing for tomorrow
Innovation must be a capability. Brands need to measure and monitor percentage improvements on something that has been done successfully. It does not mean inventing something completely new.
Understand all aspects of the change equation
Brands need to acknowledge and grasp they have a problem, the promise of where brands need to go, and the path to get there. If any of these elements is not clear in the minds of the teams tasked with creating customer experience, then change will not happen.
Focus on transformation, not on transition
Transition is a one-time event that can happen quickly. Transformation is about continuous change and evolution (think of a caterpillar transforming — not transitioning — into a butterfly).
View innovation as a capability
Embrace the CMO as a business partner of the customer experience program. Emphasize progress over perfection.
Leverage the power of partnerships and teams
See success as a team sport rather than an individual effort. The approach must be founded on trust and transparency. It is also valuable to scale agile teams around digital products and platforms.
The final word
Getting commerce right in the experience age is not a linear journey — there are steps and stages that brands must move forward through. There might also be setbacks along the way (including those triggered by external events).
However, brands can ensure they are on the right track and moving in a smart, safe, and ultimately successful direction if they keep this principle in mind: For consumers to truly experience commerce, brands must approach commerce experience strategically.
To learn more about Sitecore commerce solutions and how they can help brands thrive in the experience age, visit our Commerce Cloud page.