Shifting customer buying behaviours and accelerated digital investment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will drive five big changes in digital commerce, according to research company Gartner.

“Digital commerce has played an important role during the pandemic by enabling organisations to continue serving customers. Some customer behavioural changes, such as shopping online and becoming more health- and safety-conscious, will be long term,” said Sandy Shen, Senior Research Director at Gartner. “Measures implemented by organisations during the pandemic, such as enabling new go-to-market (GTM) models and new types of customer engagement, are likely to remain, thus evolving digital commerce.”

The researchers have identified the top five areas in digital commerce that will change as a result of COVID-19. Application and IT leaders must understand these changes and adjust investment plans and technology platforms to keep their digital commerce offerings competitive in the coming years.

Contactless Commerce: This allows customers to conduct buying activities without touching public structures or hardware, and without getting in close contact with another person. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 80 per cent of ordering and replenishment will be touchless for most organisations. Consumers and organisations will start to see more contactless checkout for in-store purchases, like what many grocery stores already offer. More organisations will offer contactless payments, contactless pickup and delivery for customers, and enable contactless commerce operations where organisations can use robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to assist employees with store-level merchandising, pricing, and pick-and-pack at warehouses.

Visual Configuration: These tools enable sales representatives and customers to see a 2D or 3D visual representation of the product they want to order, with the options and features that they have selected, without having to visit a physical showroom. Although visual configuration is currently lightly adopted, with less than 1500 deployments globally, software vendors have reported a significant uptick in business because of the pandemic. In the future, these tools may reduce the need for samples and showrooms and enable more customer self-service when buying configurable products.

Live Commerce: Companies will Live commerce use live video streaming to demonstrate products and interact with shoppers in real time to encourage purchases. The livestream function can be embedded in commerce platforms or offered by online marketplaces and social networks with purchase links or check-out functions. “Many organisations saw sales plummet during COVID-19. In China, organisations turned to livestream platforms, such as Douyin and Kuaishou, to connect with customers. Although live commerce has already been used for fashion and beauty products, many traditional organisations began using these platforms after their offline businesses were completely shut down by the pandemic,” said Ms. Shen. “Outside China, live commerce is in an early stage where there are few livestream platforms or vendor solutions. However, brands that have leveraged livestreaming for selling or customer engagement are seeing early success. Some retailers are offering personalised shopping using live chat to help customers find the right products in their shops, though viewership and sales are still lagging at this stage.”

B2B Consumerisation: Many organisations changed their selling models during COVID-19 to prioritise digital channels such as live chat, video chat, social and mobile apps to engage customers. These consumer-like selling and engagement models are expected to continue post-pandemic as they are as effective as the traditional ways of selling. As younger generations enter the workforce and take buying positions, they expect compelling customer experiences like what they get from B2C shopping. Technologies promoting intuitive user experience and anytime anywhere availability of comprehensive buying and management functions will gain traction.

Enterprise Marketplace: These are online marketplaces operated by organisations that enable third-party sellers to sell directly to end customers. Enterprise marketplaces represent not only a new set of technologies for driving digital commerce revenue, but also a fundamental business model change for commerce organisations, propelling them toward digital business. This contributes to improved experiences for buyers and sellers, better efficiency in the buying and selling processes, more efficient supply chains and new revenue sources. Organisations that deployed enterprise marketplaces prior to the onset of the pandemic were less disrupted than those who only sold first-party products. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2023, organisations that have operated enterprise marketplaces for more than one year will see at least ten per cent increase in digital revenue.

Gartner clients can learn more in the report “10 Things COVID-19 Will Change in Digital Commerce.”

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