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Businesses are using multiple channels to reach their customers. It is fundamental to identify digital commerce channels that you plan to use now and in the future. It pays off to think this through from the very beginning, as changes can be costly down the road. Keep your mind open to existing and future opportunities and design a flexible setup that could evolve with your business.

Online stores

When a business decides to create ecommerce channels, there are many decisions to make. The first one is to determine how many stores need to be created. Some may decide to create a store per country, while others having a single online store or a store per region may be a better solution. A company can have one store for consumers and another one for business customers. If an enterprise has several brands, it may create a separate online property per brand or combine them in a single store. Let’s look at these and other examples.

The fashion brand ESPRIT has separate stores for all major countries – Span, Germany, UK.
Please note that each store has a different content, different assortment, and promotions.

But it may not be cost-efficient to maintain a separate shop for smaller markets. So, ESPRIT created the .eu site for several smaller countries like Slovenia.

Having multiple brands adds another dimension to consider – a single online store for all brands or a separate store per brand and maybe per country.
For example, Gap owns Gap, Old Navi, and Banana Republic brands and has implemented a single store for all of them.
While Inditex, which has eight commercial brands (Zara, Pull and Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home, and Uterqüe), went another way with their implementation and has created a separate online property per brand.
On the other hand, the travel site Booking.com implemented the single-site approach, where it serves customers from any country and allows them to select their language and currency.

There are also cases when a merchant can create a separate store for each large customer. BuyITDirect is a company that sells electronics mostly to B2B customers. Besides the generic site, it created a dedicated website for several large clients – Hema and Netflix.

Now, let’s discuss multi-store setup options for companies that sell to other businesses and consumers. If business logic and brand positioning are very different, you need to implement two different stores.

However, in some cases, it is possible to create one great site to fulfill both purposes. It might not always be easy, but there are many advantages if you can make it work. For example, Office Depot is using a single store for both consumers and small businesses. Tuckey, which provides solutions for plumbing, metalwork, restoration for residential and commercial properties, is also using the single-site approach for both B2C & B2B customers.

Tuckey also gives us an example of using a single store for multiple lines of business. The Tuckey Companies is comprised of three distinct entities:

  • Tuckey Mechanical Services, Inc. completes HVAC, duct cleaning, electrical, and plumbing projects for commercial clients and general contractors alike.
  • Tuckey Metal Fabricators, Inc. offers custom systems fabrication services, welding, millwrighting, rigging, and additional metal fabrication services.
  • Tuckey Restoration, Inc. specializes in renewing properties with historic preservation, remodeling, mold remediation, and property damage restoration.

It is very convenient for customers to come to a single site to access all services offered by Tuckey. It also provides great cross-sell opportunities.

 The single store approach may not work for every business. Sometimes corporate subdivisions are just too different in what products or services they provide or are operated by different IT organizations and will need to implement their Ecommerce system.

Social Media

As social media’s influence grows, social Commerce is becoming an increasingly important channel in online shopping. Consumers have used social media to learn about products and brands and find inspiration for over a decade; the term “social commerce” was introduced by Yahoo! in 2005. But in the past few years, platforms have been working to eliminate the friction of buying a product elsewhere after discovering it on social media. They added buy buttons and implemented digital wallets so that users can make purchases without leaving the platform.

Facebook Shops make it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook Shop is free and straightforward. Companies can choose the products they want to feature from their catalog and then customize their shop’s look and feel with a cover image and accent colors that showcase their brand. No matter its size or budget, any seller can bring its business online and connect with customers wherever and whenever it is convenient for them.

People can find Facebook Shops on a business’ Facebook Page or Instagram profile or discover them through stories or ads. From there, customers can browse the full collection, save products they are interested in, and place an order — either on the business’ website or without leaving the App if the company has enabled checkout.

Some Ecommerce systems have prebuilt integration with Facebook. For example, Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and others.

An Instagram Shop lets you integrate your product catalog with your Instagram profile. In turn, Instagram allows you to promote your products directly to Instagram users through posts, stories in the Explore tab, and the Shop tab on your profile. As Instagram explains, “Once a business has a product catalog connected to their account, tagging a product is as simple as tagging a person in a post.”

Let’s look at some examples of Instagram shops. The image below features watch brand MVMT and shows the Instagram Shop tab in action. Users visiting the MVMT profile can see all brand’s products without leaving the Instagram app.

You can also tag Instagram Shop products in your posts in the same way you would tag a friend, which adds a little shopping bag icon to your image. Then, when users tap the photo, they can view the products’ prices and touch the product labels to see product pages.

China is a pioneer in many areas of mobile and social media technologies. WeChat shop or store offers one of the easiest ways to start selling products in China. A WeChat shop is, essentially, an e-commerce platform that exists within the WeChat messaging app. It functions as a mobile website that connects directly to the menu of an Official WeChat Account.

The UK luxury brand Stella McCartney launched a Mini Program featuring ready-to-wear, bags, and shoes available for direct purchase via the WeChat store.  A user-friendly design, customer service, wishlist feature, and order management service facilitates the purchasing journey. Customers can also navigate to different product categories from the homepage: Ready-to-Wear, Bags, Shoes. In the customer center, users can access customer service should they have any queries before purchasing and manage their contact information and delivery details.

Conversational Commerce

Conversational Commerce is a term coined by Uber’s Chris Messina in a 2015 piece published on Medium. It refers to the intersection of messaging apps and shopping. Conversational Commerce refers to interacting with businesses through messaging and chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Talk, and WeChat. It now also includes voice conversations based on speech recognition technologies.

For example, H&M has created a chatbot that acts as a personal stylist. The chatbot asks users to answer a series of multiple-choice questions to determine their preferences before making recommendations. That could be an entire outfit or the latest trending pieces. Customers can also see outfits that other bot users have created for inspiration and then vote on them.

Lego is using a chatbot in Facebook Messenger to add fun to the present buying experience. Ralph is Lego’s super-friendly, emoji-loving chatbot, which starts by asking the questions about the gift recipient – the age of the child, play interests, etc. before offering up several personalized suggestions based on the customer’s answers. With the present selected, users are directed to Lego’s website to pay.

Starbucks has also built Conversational Commerce into its mobile App. Using a smart barista bot, customers can type or use voice commands to order their morning favorite and pay for their coffee through their phone. Then once the hot beverage is ready, they’ll be alerted through a message. 

Another interesting example of using conversation commerce can be found on the travel site – SnapTravel. The website works via SMS, WhatsApp, or Messenger.

While conversational Commerce has not matured yet and is probably overhyped, we need to keep an eye on opportunities to use it as natural language technology evolves.

3rd party marketplaces

In addition to having their digital commerce infrastructure, many businesses, from small to large, sell their products on 3rd party marketplaces. Adding this complimentary channel brings additional sales and revenue and extends brand awareness.

You can find many discussions and books with the pros and cons of using 3rd party marketplaces as a business strategy. Here we will only talk about implementation aspects.

To sell on Marketplaces, you need to implement integration. On a high-level, you send information about products and prices and receive backorders to fulfill. As you go into detail, implementation is, of course, more complicated. First, each marketplace has its format for data exchange. That means you need to implement a different data mapping and transformation for each marketplace if your ecommerce platform does not support marketplace integration out of the box. Because placing products on the marketplace costs money, you need to have tools to define what portion of your catalog you want to send where and when. If your business needs integration to multiple marketplaces or social media channels, it may be cost-effective to use the Data Feed Management platform, like ProductsUp, instead of developing and maintaining your own integrations. First, it already has 150+ prebuilt integrations. Besides, it offers business users tools to do data mapping and define what products should be sold on each channel.

Digital Commerce in Physical World

While before we saw many traditional retailers rushing to create an online presence, there is a new trend that goes in the opposite direction in the last several years. More and more digital technology is adopted inside retail locations, and pure online players extend their reach into the offline world. It brings us to an interesting discussion about digital channels your business may implement in physical stores.

Brick and Mortar Stores

If a business has retail locations, it needs to integrate them into its digital commerce strategy. It is essential to ensure a consistent customer experience across online and offline channels.

The obvious place to start is to help customer to find the closest store location. Best Buy goes a bit further by allowing customers to filter stores based on the store’s services and expertise the store’s employees have.

The next step in integrating a retail location into a digital channel is to offer the ability to buy online and pick up in-store, or, as it is sometimes called, Click & Collect.

With Click & Collect in place, the online shopping experience is tailored to the selected store’s product availability and prices. Customers should also be able to see in what stores the product they are looking for is available. To achieve that, the Ecommerce system needs to be integrated with retail stores’ ERP. The products’ availability in the online-shop is a combination of the inventory available online plus inventory available at the selected retail location.

Hornbach is a German do-it-yourself shop. It also asks customers to select the preferred retail location when they arrive at the Hornbach site. While browsing the online store, a customer can use two shopping carts – one for buying online and the second for picking up in-store. Customers can also check product availability in the stores nearby. Hornbach needs to ask customers to select into which cart to add a product because the checkout process is different for products bought online and shipped vs. products collected in store. For online products, a customer pays during checkout, while paying for products collected in a store is done in the store. If your business can implement paying for both orders online, Click & Collect is becoming just an additional delivery method. Instead of splitting a cart, you will implement split shipment functionality.

Interactive Product Displays

Interactive Product Displays and Kiosks offer a new way to engage customers inside a shop using digital technology. For example, interactive Product Displays from beabloo combine digital signage and interactive technologies to allow customers to obtain valuable information without involving store staff. Customers can quickly check information about products by scanning an RFID tag or attached barcode or lifting the products from an interactive shelf (Lift & Learn). Within the Beabloo CMS, the relevant information is assigned to this ID, including the product description, price, and complementary product information. When a customer scans or lifts a product with a tag/sticker, the nearest digital signage screen displays content related to that product, such as complementary products, special offers, and product features.

Beabloo installed an Interactive Kiosk with a touch screen in one of the NBA Stores in China as a pilot project. This solution, integrated with Beabloo’s cloud-based content management system (CMS), lets visitors see information about products available in the store, select what they want, personalize it instantly and pay with a QR code, all without waiting in any lines. Customers then receive their products directly at home, quickly and without carrying their purchases around while they shopped.

Smart Stores & Shopping Carts

Now, let’s step into the future and look at digital-native retail locations.

Amazon Go is a new retail business model based on in-store shopping. Amazon Go is a chain of convenience stores located in the United States operated by Amazon. In 2018, Amazon opened the first Amazon Go store in Seattle and plans to open as many as 3,000 Amazon Go stores by 2021. There are other stores based on a similar idea, including Alibaba’s Tao Café and Hema, California based Standard Cognition, Israel’s Trigo Vision, and more.

Amazon describes Amazon Go as “a new kind of store with no checkout required.” That means, when you shop at Amazon Go, you will never have to wait in line. The store works with an Amazon Go application – you enter the Amazon Go store, take the products you want, and, thanks to the App, just leave.

It works by using the same technologies found in self-driving cars, such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. This technology can detect when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in your virtual cart.

When you leave the store with your goods, your Amazon account is charged, and you are sent a receipt.

However, the cost and efforts required to install cameras all over the ceiling and into every shelf could block many businesses from entering the autonomous shopping era. Smart shopping cart vendors offer a more affordable and genuinely fascinating solution.  It is the best example of blending digital Commerce in the physical environment.

Startup Caper wants to eliminate checkout lines as easily as replacing shopping carts while offering a more familiar experience for customers. Caper makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper. V1 of Caper’s cart requires customers to scan each item. But each time they scan, the cart is taking 120 photos and is precisely weighing the items to train Caper’s machine vision algorithms to eliminate scanning barcodes in the future.

Not to be undone, Amazon has introduced its smart cart called Dash Cart. The Dash Cart comes equipped with a touch screen and a scale to weigh produce and cameras and sensors that use computer vision to identify items placed in the cart.

When arriving in a store with Dash Carts, a shopper first will scan a QR code on the Amazon app, which signs them into their cart. When done shopping, a customer will head out the Dash Cart lane. Then, Amazon will automatically charge their on-file credit card and email a receipt. Users can also load their Alexa grocery shopping lists with the carts. The carts additionally come equipped with a coupon scanner to apply savings quickly.

A smart cart is an inspiring digital channel. You will find practically all digital commerce components that we will cover in the following sections built into the smart cart solution. The customers have access to a digital catalog of the products, personalized recommendations based on selected products and customer location, promotions, digital checkout, and payments.

Smart Vending Machines

Vending machines are getting reinvented as a digital channel. Let’s have a look at RiceBot – a smart, digital rice vending machine, using bulk dispense/refill capabilities to carefully dispense perfectly measured quantities of rice to consumers looking to reduce their plastic consumption. It is implemented by Aeguana, which has developed the eco-dispense concept based on its VendLive platform that provides remote monitoring, stock management, and content management.

And how about buying your next car at a vending machine? In Guangzhou, China, car shoppers can now purchase or test-drive a car using a smartphone app and a car vending machine. The facility came out of a partnership signed two years ago between Ford and Alibaba. Called the Super Test-Drive Center, the center houses dozens of Ford vehicles in the multistorey building. Users select the car they want through the Tmall App and have the option of taking it on a three-day test ride.

Or head to www.carvana.com and search more than 10,000 cars from all over the country. The website will walk you through everything: finding and selecting the right vehicle for you, setting up financing, and selling or trading in your existing vehicle. Once you’ve gone through the process, which Carvana says could take as little as 10 minutes, you can choose to have the car delivered straight to your house or pick it up at the vending machine. Depending on where your car is in the country, it could take as little as a day to get it to Indianapolis for pick-up or delivery.

In B2B commerce, industrial vending machines on the factory floor give workers quick access to tools and components and automatically replenish stock based on the inventory level. That helps improve cost optimization and productivity on the factory floor and ensures timely delivery for end customers.

Things Commerce (IoT)

Soon, billions of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices and intelligent software assistants will select products or services and transact purchases. The purchase process may occur on the device itself or another channel (such as a website or mobile App). At the same time, the delivery of services or rights to access a service takes place on the IoT device (such as a smartwatch or connected car). Many businesses have deployed Things Commerce already. Both in B2C and B2B. Let’s look at some examples.

Let’s start with Disney’s Magic Band. With this device around your wrist, you don’t need to worry about keeping track of hotel keys, park tickets, passes to skip attraction lines, or your payment cards. You can easily leave the wallet in your hotel and use the MagicBand instead. It does not only offer products from Disney but also a broad catalog of products from its partners. Product selection is determined in the context of the customer’s location, which identifies itself to the band. The Magic Band is essentially cardless payment technology integrated with customer account functionality that keeps track of previous purchases and associated entitlements. That creates a seamless customer experience.

Let’s look at another example, a connected coffee machine – Nespresso PRODIGIO. The machine connects to an app on your smartphone, keeps track of capsules you used, and will notify you when stock is running low or even reorder your favorites automatically. It will also send you an alert when the machine requires maintenance.

Things Commerce is even more prevailing in B2B. Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale genetic variation and function analysis. It is a multi-billion international company using IoT to personalize the customer experience and have a deeper relationship with its customers. Its innovative use of IoT and online tools allow the company to notify customers about equipment maintenance, their orders’ status, and reorder consumables for the planned experiment. Illumina can also make personalized product recommendations based on the research done on its machines.

Many other manufacturers such as Siemens, Bosch, and Tesla offer predictive maintenance and commerce functionality integrated into or with smart devices.

There are two approaches to integrating commerce functionality with IoT.

The first approach is Commerce-centric when complementary products and services are offered on existing thing commerce platforms. Let’s look at connected cars as an example. In this case, thing commerce isn’t designed to automate vehicles’ purchase but to enable customers to order food, gas, schedule maintenance services, or buy spare parts, all from the car dashboard.

The second approach is to embed commerce functions into existing IoT-enabled processes. IoT-based processes often aim to improve efficiency and productivity. Commerce, in this case, is done in the context of the process. For example, service engineers can order the exact parts from the maintenance process without leaving the service UI. Defining what part to buy, where, and when to deliver it is done without the engineer losing the focus and switching to a different application. The experience for both the customer and engineer is improved by including the commerce function into the maintenance process flow.

Digital Channels for Your Business

Why defining your current and future digital channels is so important? As you will see in the following sections of the Digital Commerce Canvas, many aspects of your initiative could be channel-specific. From what languages and currencies you need to support, what products are available in each channel, what is the customer buying experience, and how orders are processed and delivered.

Domino Pizza offers an excellent way to conclude the Channel sections. It gives its customers 15 ways to order pizza: using Google Home or Alexa, SMS, conversational Commerce, social media, smartwatches, and TVs, and from your car or on your phone with a special one-click App.

 If Domino Pizza has implemented 15 channels for their customer to order pizzas, how many channels your business needs to support? Be creative, look beyond today’s needs and today’s technologies, and explore different ways to reach your customers

Next Section

Products

Learn about different product types from a Digital Commerce perspective (physical products, services, subscriptions, configurable products, product options, gift cards, …)