The Future of Shopping

Posted Musings

Hot on the heels of Dash, a barcode scanner for the home, Amazon announced #AmazonCart, which allows Twitter users to shop straight from their Twitter feed. What’s Amazon trying to accomplish?

The service is simple: reply to any tweet with a link to a product on Amazon with the hashtag #Amazoncart. If your Twitter and Amazon accounts are linked, that product will be added to your basket. Once completed, you’ll receive a reply and an email confirming the process. Checkout and purchase occurs at your leisure.

Most of the articles about the service ultimately take a dubious tone regarding it’s value. They wonder whether people will want to shop through their newsfeed, or whether they want other people to see what they’re buying.

The concerns raised are valid but they’re missing the point, which isn’t how people shop now, it’s about how they may shop in the future. #AmazonCart may very well fail, quite possibly due to the shortcomings these authors highlight. But in trying new things, Amazon are inexorably moving towards a watershed point where shopping is digitally ubiquitous and the public are ok with that. They’ll only find that through trying (and failing) various methods of making shopping more convenient.

Think of all the different, incongruous ways people buy stuff: catalogues, mail order and the home shopping network are all seemingly insane, yet clearly work. Online shopping seemed as far fetched when it launched as putting a man on the moon must have seemed in the beginning of the century (pipe down, conspiracy theorists!). What was once laughably unlikely has become de rigueur.

Amazon is trying to make shopping ubiquitous and in the process removing barriers to buy. This is an ongoing process and one most people wholly support. Why would you want the purchase experience to take any longer than necessary?

Our online media consumption is the entertainment equivalent of window browsing: we pick and choose snippets of content presented to us by the friends and brands we’ve allowed, selecting from channels of our choosing. We are the masters of our content exposure. From the options presented we curate the most tasty morsels, stored and sorted for later consumption. our focus can safely shift to something else, securely knowing that whatever piqued interest has been safely tagged and stored for a more convenient time and location.

If Pinterest, Pocket, Flipboard and other bookmarking services allow us to be the curators of our media experience, why shouldn’t we buy in the same way?

JWT’s 10 Mobile Trends for 2014 and beyond report inexorably highlights a move towards ubiquity and holistic connectivity, and shopping must be a part of that. As the technology improves capability, the user experience becomes all encompassing and must, if it’s going to succeed, be simplified. Our environment, our possessions, our entertainment and our financial institutions are going to merge to become a seamless experience. It will just be there, like a cellphone signal.

Most of all, this trend towards seamless integration between content and retail hints at how marketing will need to adapt to keep up. Word of mouth and authentic recommendation have always been worth their weight in gold. The ROI on a person’s recommendation, whether it’s peer to peer or paid celebrity endorsement, becomes crucial when the message itself becomes the means to purchase. Think of how entertainment changes when everything from the actor’s clothing to the items on set and the shows soundtrack are buy-able from within the medium.

This stuff scares most people. Marketers and Brand managers just as much as the general public. And nothing clamps down on spending quite like fear and uncertainty. But big changes mean taking big chances, because you’ve got to bridge the gap between what is and what could be. That’s the case with most major shifts in mindset. This functional ubiquity’s a long way off and it’s difficult to imagine how it will be realised. But it’s the direction we’re moving in, and innovations like curating a shopping list through hashtags are small steps on the bigger journey we’re all on.