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Provide cohesive shopping experiences at scale

Mobile shopping
(Image credit: Pixabay)

We are officially in the mobile-first era, with Google declaring over a year ago that more Google searches happen on mobile devices than on desktop browsers. Users aren’t so much idly browsing the internet anymore as they are going to the web with a specific goal in mind, and they want that goal to be met as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Enter the rise of micro-moments. The numbers bear this trend out: Mobile phones are expected to account for 30% of digital sales during the holiday season, per NetElixir.

Coupled with this widespread move toward mobile is the continued dominance of social media. Reports indicate that Americans check their various social media sites 17 times each day. And that’s not just teenagers. In fact, the most frequent users of social media belong in the 25-to-54 age group. Added up, whether it’s on social media apps (most of which are mobile-first) or mobile games, people spend up to a third of their waking hours on their phones.

These developments have a major impact on the way brands and businesses reach their customers on a large scale. In short, people are spending less and less time browsing your particular site. Instead, they’ll be perusing their favorite social media site, see an ad or recommended post pointing back to your site, go to your site to (hopefully) make a purchase, and then go back to whatever they were doing on social media. The days of walking into a shop (or visiting its website) and simply looking around are pretty much gone.

Contextualized commerce: What it is and how brand can seize it
Now, you have to find a way to offer your product on these main social channels in a way that is tailored to each customer’s preferences and is as easy as possible to make the purchase. How are you going to scale in a way that penetrates the market on the consumers’ level? All signs point to the fact that unlocking a simpler way to offer mobile-first shopping will be crucial in seeing your services reach as many customers as possible.

This new trend that emphasizes approaching customers in their most natural browsing streams — specifically through social media on mobile devices — is called contextualized commerce. It calls for an update in the way consumers can make online purchases. Beginning with Amazon’s one-click shopping, the trend in online purchasing has always been to make the checkout as convenient as possible for the customer. If your business still requires customers to navigate away from their original browsing channel to finalize a purchase, you might be missing out on good business. This is especially true for mobile shopping, where navigating from apps to browsers and vice versa can be a real pain.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “But how can I keep customers from having to change sites to make a purchase? I can’t just put a Buy Now button wherever I please,” then you’re not alone. In fact, it’s generally true that heading to the destination site to finalize a payment was the only way to conduct e-commerce. Until now.

How tech companies are enabling contextualized commerce
In order to meet the demands of contextualized commerce and mobile-first shopping, major tech players are recognizing the importance of making transactions as simple as possible in the social network sphere and beyond. With the arrival of services like PayPal commerce, it’s now possible for brands and merchants to embed checkout and other commerce options into the partnering host environment. Pinterest’s success with Buyable Pins is a positive first step in this promising technology. As the technology continues to improve, more and more businesses will be able to provide purchasing options within the stream of the social network instead of making customers navigate away to a purchasing page.

The latest push towards contextual commerce comes from Facebook, which is now trying to follow in the steps of China’s WeChat by adding commerce to its platform through Facebook Messenger. Facebook launched Facebook M, a chatbot that can communicate with Facebook messengers and answer queries and help with basic tasks. Facebook is also letting developers use their chatbot API in order to build third-party chatbots that consumers can use to learn more about a business and even to purchase products and services, bringing commerce directly to Facebook’s platform.

Contextualized commerce promises to be the next big wave of online shopping trends. It will radically transform the way consumers interact with businesses, as everything consumers want and need is increasingly brought right to their fingertips. How will your brand make the most of this trend?

Charles Dearing is a veteran tech and marketing journalist with over 15 years of experience using words to move people to act. He has written for various publications such as ProBlogger, Big Think, Apps World, to name a few. You may connect with him on Twitter.