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The Future Of Tech And Commerce

Technology’s rapid change is both daunting and exciting for strategists

10May

We are at a pivotal moment in time for the progression of technology and its influence over our lives. Where tech was once an adjunct to daily life, it’s now an essential part of it. For the younger generations in particular, the relationship with tech is synergic rather than complimentary, and as they take over the workplace, it too is reflecting this shift. One of the knock-on effects of technology’s development is the changing attitudes toward commerce in the market. Users today expect ease and personalization, two elements not necessarily offered by traditional businesses.

Speaking at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in London earlier this year, Carrie Ryan, Head of UK Strategy at eBay, discussed the technological changes that are driving new forms of commerce in her presentation. ‘In a way we are all experts,’ she said. ‘Which makes strategy that bit trickier… One of the scariest things for me about the future of commerce is just the pace of change and how fast that is accelerating.’

At eBay, the strategy team sees 10 core trends in the world of commerce, and use them to ‘play a bit with scenarios as to what is going to happen in the future. We bucket those into three core themes.’ The first is technology trends - AI, machine learning, Internet of Things, AR/R. The second category is consumer trends - the rise of the digital natives, the demand for simplicity and personalization, and the sharing economy. The final trend is within the market itself - commerce no longer belongs only in stores or online, it’s everywhere we are, be it on social media or on public transport.

Carrie’s presentation focused primarily on the technological changes affecting commerce, separating them into three key areas: AI, IoT, and AR/VR. The figures for each are daunting. ‘We now predict that AI will be achieving 25% of US gross economic value add by 2020. If we look at the Internet of Things and the empowerment of distributed commerce through that - 50 billion IoT devices 2020. For perspective, there are about 7 billion people in the world, so that’s over seven devices per person. AR and VR - redefining out engagements with key brands - around $120 billion in revenue expected by 2020. So the scale of these changes is huge.’

There are the obvious examples of Fintech, like contactless and mobile payments, but what will be truly difficult for strategists to navigate are developments in commerce on social and messaging apps, where users spend a great deal of their time. One example is the rise of in-app purchasing on the likes of WeChat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Each already allows or will allow brands to communicate with users directly through bots, with purchasing and browsing all taking place in-app. Another example is slightly more complex. Facebook announced at its F8 conference that it intends to turn the camera into an augmented reality device first, and a picture-taking device second, a move that could have huge ramifications in terms of how users interact with their smartphones.

Naturally, when a new piece of technology becomes widely used, there are companies ready and waiting to exploit it to drive commerce, and it will be interesting to see how Facebook’s AR technology opens doors for companies to be present, be helpful, and ultimately to boost sales. For a brand like eBay, the consideration will be just how they can put products in front of their users to succeed in all of these areas. From Carrie’s presentation, you get the sense that strategists are both excited and daunted by the pace of technological change and its effect on commerce. For all the challenges it throws up, it also opens doors for novel and innovative ways to sell, and with technology and other aspects of daily life becoming increasingly blurred together, our relationship with commerce is set to be revolutionized. 

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