The Digital Trends Defining the Customer Journey in 2018

2018 will be an exciting year in marketing, ushering in a handful of digital trends that will define the customer journey of the future. User interfaces will diversify Voice-based user interfaces, augmented reality, and a demand for frictionless experiences are changing the way consumers interact with brands says, Brian Byer, VP of Business Development, Blue Fountain Media

Amazon and Google are in a race to get their smart speakers into every household in America.The smaller versions of these devices, Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, come with remarkably affordable price tags which is helping to speed adoption. In fact, Google recently claimed to have sold more than one Google Home device every second since the Mini launched in October.

Until recently, we’ve been accustomed to interacting with our devices almost exclusively through the typing of commands. For now, text-based search remains predominant, but thanks to smart speakers and smartphones, voice search is making significant gains. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of mobile searches are voice-based, and ComScore estimates that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be executed via voice command.

Augmented reality will do more than entertain

The rise of voice user interfaces and conversational interfaces (chatbots) signals a shift in the way consumers will interact with brands on the web in the years to come. Rather than searching out and discovering products on our own, we will increasingly rely on assistants powered by AI to do the heavy lifting for us. Voice search is more likely to be question-based and, in the case of virtual assistants, encourages the return of a single result . Instead of typing “winter boots” and seeing a list of variably useful results, we will ask “what are the warmest winter boots?” and receive a clear answer. Over time this has the potential to change consumer expectations about the quality and relevance of search results and brand experiences. Convenience is key, and brands that can anticipate and meet consumer demands will win .

Visual search, though more nascent than voice search, will certainly become a factor in the very near future . High-profile launches like Google Lens promise to allow users to harness the power of their smartphone cameras to gather information. It isn’t hard to imagine a future where consumers can discover and shop seamlessly through visual search.

The most well-known uses of AR have thus far been designed for the purposes of entertainment (think: the 2016 phenomenon that was Pokémon Go). But AR is growing up and coming into its own. High rates of smartphone adoption and the ever-increasing sophistication of these devices have allowed AR to make inroads into the mainstream. The 2017 introduction of Apple’s ARKit is helping developers bring AR apps to market faster and at lower costs, which will lead to greater consumer acclimatization to the technology.

All focus will be on the quality of customer experience

Augmented reality can be put to real, meaningful use to create innovative experiences that help brands unify the customer journey across disparate channels. Take, for example, the IKEA Place app, which allows users to hold up their phone to their surroundings to see how a product will look and fit in their space. Though IKEA Place is novel, there’s a utilitarian quality to the app (not unlike the utilitarianism of the brand’s furniture). The app brings digital technology to a real-world setting and makes ecommerce more viable as a result. Ordering a coffee table online is less of a risk if you know it will look good next to the couch you already own.

Experiential retail will own the day:

Approached from a different angle, AR can also be employed to improve the in-store experience. Smart mirrors in fitting rooms, for example, can help users explore how clothing will look under different lighting conditions. Or an app that lets consumers experience how specific makeup products will look on her face better enables her to shop online confidently and to reduce time spent aimlessly browsing in the store.

We know that the days of a straightforward customer journey are long behind us. As devices and shopping channels have proliferated, the customer journey has become less predictable . The result is that selling is increasingly about outpacing the competition in terms of exceptional customer experience .

Frictionless experiences will be the standard to strive for:

Shopping online is convenient, and it eliminates many of the pitfalls of traditional brick-and-mortar retail experiences (dark, cramped fitting rooms, cluttered racks and shelves that make it difficult to find products). It’s no wonder then that many brands have experienced brick-and-mortar sales slumps.

Cutting edge fashion brands like Reformation, however, are using technology to overhaul the process of trying and buying clothes in-store. Other brands, like Nike, Warby Parker, and Everlane, are working hard to create environments that marry digital convenience with compelling in-store experience.

All the attention paid to designing omnichannel marketing strategies boils down, in many ways, to figure out how to reduce friction in the customer journey. Just because brands consider online and brick-and-mortar stores to be separate channels, doesn’t mean that consumers see or treat them that way. When communication between channels is broken, consumers experience the breakdown as friction in the path to purchase.

The world’s most innovative companies are leading the way when it comes to making customer experiences as frictionless as possible. Voice commerce will be part of the frictionless revolution in 2018 and, if Amazon has anything to say about it, so will stores that dispense with the worst aspects of the shopping experience (i.e.; lines).


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