The Future of Shopping

The future of shopping is an exciting space where online and offline will be merged. It’s going to bring new digital experiences to our lives, be immersive and allow for experiential shopping. It’s also going to bring brands and consumers closer together. Covid has accelerated the trend of e-commerce with the US experiencing an estimated 10 years of e-commerce growth in just two months.

The trend has persisted, even when stores started opening up. E-commerce has grown and will continue to grow. In South Africa and other emerging markets where research was done, there’s been a 32% increase in online purchasing. Additionally, 73% of people indicated they’re interested in new ways of shopping.

Social media has really become the way for people to discover products, how they research products, and also where they buy products. Online consumers are embracing digital tools and they want brands to also meet them in that space. Mobile has become the most important shopping tool, and that’s what people are stating across all markets. The future of shopping is going to be e-commerce, largely socially driven and it’s going to be on mobile.

Messaging is important – people want to communicate with brands the same way that they communicate with their friends. That’s on Chat platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram. There’s been a massive rise in Chat over the past year, specifically during lockdown, 40% increase year on year. There are a hundred million messages sent every month between businesses and consumers on the WhatsApp API, and more than 3 million advertisers now use messaging to interact with their customers. In South Africa, 61% of shoppers indicated they’re much more likely to buy from a brand that will engage with them by messaging.

People can ask for more information about your company and for support for your products and services in a chat-based way. Quite possibly, if you are at the consideration phase, you’re going to chat and ask questions which could then lead to people literally buying products in WhatsApp. That behaviour is likely to accelerate as things like Shops on WhatsApp will be launched. 

There’s the loyalty factor at the end of the purchase journey – an opportunity for brands to serve a link in your Facebook feed a month after your purchase. They know what product you have bought and now they’re showing you something else that you might like, starting the purchase funnel all over again. This is happening, on Messenger, WhatsApp and on Instagram. 

The second trend is shopper-tainment. People don’t just go shopping because they need to get something. They go shopping because it’s fun. It’s an experience, a way to hang out with friends. While in the store, they grab lunch or rummage through the sales corner and people want brands to replicate that experience online.

This has lead to the rise of live shopping. There’s been an incredible 200% increase in live shopping over the past year and research done in emerging markets, including Africa, showed an increase of 68% in live shopping over the last year. 

How does live shopping work? You might be an influencer like Nikki Taylor, selling make-up, doing demos and giving tips. You’re selling one product, but moving thousands of units at a time. For a brand, it is a way to build brand trust. In terms of satisfaction, 90% of people indicated they were very satisfied with their live shopping experience. That means they’re likely to come back and do more of it. It’s a trend that’s likely to continue to grow. It’s very much fashion-focused at the moment, but what about sports equipment and auto accessories? Think about how you can give people early access to deals and products that you’re launching. 

If a brand can team up with an influencer, they should as it promises interaction. They want Q and A’s. They want polls, they want potential live triathlons and special programming. It’s all about adding experiences, across many different products, again and again. People want brand interaction, for brands to respond to their comments or queries or to assist when that product that they really wanted, is not available. 

The third trend that we believe is going to drive the future of shopping is augmented reality. When research was done in 14 emerging markets, including Africa, 87% of people said they have used an augmented reality feature. Augmented reality is really helping bridge the gap between offline and online as it works through the entire shopping funnel, creating excitement. For example, if there’s a sofa you’re thinking of buying, augmented reality lets you can see what it would look like in your own living room. It’s also a great way to generate leads. There is much excitement about augmented reality with 75% of businesses globally stating that they are looking at using augmented reality in one way or another, a figure that is up from 40% in 2020.

Ray-Ban Stories is a very good example of augmented reality being used effectively. You could put on your very stylish Ray-Bans and you could simply tap to take a photo or record a video and then send that to your friends. Or you could even make calls and other people can see what you’re seeing through your eyes. Just imagine the applications for shopping? You’d be able to walk down a street, enter a store, find more information about products and talk to people who will be in the same space as you as we will all have avatars. It’s the next level of shopping. 

A big problem is this growing demand for products and this growing demand for experiences, but we don’t have additional time. You have an infinite shelf of products, but you still have the same amount of time to explore. This is where we rely on people recommending things to us. Usually that’s a machine making recommendations. Netflix has been doing it for a very long time. 80% of content that you watch on Netflix is because Netflix recommended it to you. Spotify is very similar. Over the last five years, they’ve driven 2.3 billion hours of music discovery.

The Facebook feed is heavily built on AI as well. You’re served an experience based on what you have indicated you enjoy and what you want to see more of. With strong technology in that space, Facebook is also in the perfect position to then serve ads to people based on what they already know that they would like to see and might be likely to engage with.

If you can combine AI with Chat, this personal assistant can learn what your style is, what clothes you have in your closet, what new items you might want, and actually recommend items to you. Based on that, we are continuing to build technologies driven by machine learning. A new area is image recognition on Instagram. You see something you like and take a photo of it. You upload it to Instagram and the AI will be able to find other products out there that you can go and buy and discover. The future will be about products finding people. The machine will learn what you’re interested in and present this to you in fun and interactive ways.