What A Four-Year Old Taught Me About Consumers’ ‘Amazon-ian’ Demand For Convenience

July 25, 2017

The other day I heard a remarkable thing coming from the other room.

“Ok, Google,” said a sweet small voice reminiscent of a Peanuts character. “Play the Batman theme song.”

It was Lukas, my 4-year-old great nephew, who was authoritatively commanding his Google Home speaker — a moment that captured the Amazon Effect in full swing—via a competitor’s device, no less.

Voice assistants and conversational commerce —whereby a shopper might holler out to her Amazon Echo device, “Alexa, reorder Tide Detergent” — is just the latest expression of the Amazon Effect.

The nation’s biggest online retailer has reset consumers’ convenience expectations by making never-leave-home shopping mainstream, and by pioneering e-commerce innovations like one-click ordering, free shipping, customer reviews and product-recommendation engines that have redefined what consumers demand of their shopping experience: ease, speed and unprecedented convenience.

The disruption has retailers and brands scrambling to inject meaningful new conveniences into the shopping moments that intersect with our lifestyle needs and social experiences— from ordering a restaurant meal to choosing a bridesmaid’s dress.

Will Conversational Commerce Take Off?

Without even knowing it, 4-year-old Lukas is already a product of the expectation economy, marked by “ever accelerating customer expectations, applied … to every purchase decision, experience and moment of attention,” according to forecasting firm TrendWatching.

And like Lukas, consumers these days expect to be able to “provide their feedback to retailers and brands— and get a response,” according to a report from Daymon Worldwide, “From Shopper to Advocate: The Power of Participation.”

As shopping becomes more on-demand and personal, “this expectation requires that retailers and brands provide relevant platforms to enable interaction with shoppers through the course of their daily life.”

While consumers so far are mostly using voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo to get information as opposed to shop, that’s about to change, analysts say.

The culture is ripe for voice-driven commerce with the widespread adoption of digital shopping, the rise of the connected-consumer and the “‘always-on’ nature of Amazon,” according to a Walker Sands report. The study found that nearly 1 in 3 consumers plan to make a purchase via a voice-controlled device in the next year.

Among Amazon loyalists, for one, the Echo Dot was the retailer’s best-selling device on Prime Day, the site’s Black Friday-in-July-esque extravaganza for members of its loyalty program, according to an Amazon press release. But how much buyers use the device to actually make a purchase remains to be seen.

Is The Waiting Over?

From its Technology Hub in New York City, MasterCard is working with traditional retailers to reimagine the in-store experience in ways that reflect the “on-demand economy.”

The hub, which bowed in 2014, takes a page from Silicon Valley’s fail-fast innovation model by testing and deploying retail technology within a six- to nine-month window.

Upping payment convenience is one key push via “commerce enabled surfaces so that shoppers can checkout from the fitting room, a storefront window, and other surfaces in the retail environment,” said Stephane Wyper, senior vice president of IoT commercialization for MasterCard.

Waiting to pay is a chronic pain point for consumers that they will only tolerate less and less in the era of online shopping. Indeed, 54% of consumers today want to check out of a retail store without having to wait in line.

Diners, for example, wait an average 11 minutes for their checks when they go out to eat, according to MasterCard. To shorten their wait time and boost server productivity, MasterCard created mobile payment app Qkr that lets consumers pay for their meal without waiting for the check. Using Qkr, diners check in when they arrive and pay when they’re ready to leave.

After testing the app, U.K. restaurant TGIF saw “top line growth and generated 12 minutes [worth] of more sales,” Wyper told me at MasterCard’s innovation lab. What’s more, the app can easily personalize and itemize the check if diners want separate bills.

Bridesmaids Revisited

Banana Republic is taking a shot at shaking up the sale of bridesmaid dresses while angling for a piece of the $100 billion wedding business.

The Gap’s upscale division, which has been an ongoing company laggard, has partnered with e-commerce firm Weddington Way via in-store bridal party shops.

Former Bloomingdale’s buyer Ilana Stern founded Weddington Way in 2012 after observing that weddings, a traditionally joyous life marker, were often soured by the “painful,” expensive, and consensus-challenged process of picking out bridesmaid dresses for both the bride and her bridal party.

Members of any bridal party have different tastes, shapes, skin tones, and often live in different cities, which can make for a fraught experience, Stern told me at a new Weddington Way shop in Banana Republic’s Rockefeller Center store in New York City.

Targeting Millennials, Weddington Way launched a “collaborative shopping” technology platform whereby bridal parties browse the bridal-party fashions and share and discuss products via a virtual showroom featuring bridesmaid dresses in a broad color palette, all priced under $200.

As Weddington Way gained a following, devotees started asking for physical spaces to try on the dresses. The retailer tested pop-up shops in 2015 and 2016, and saw conversion rates as an omnichannel retailer “10 times” higher than its only-online business, Stern said.

Now the new shop-in-shops in select Banana Republic stores will offer the bridal party a place to try on their selections in a bid to further ease the bridal process.

For Stern, it’s about tapping technology to ease a longtime consumer pain point and “evolve consumer expectations,” she said.

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