Being an Early Adopter: What Does it Mean for Ecommerce?

In today’s world, ecommerce boils down to nothing more than a web-based shopping portal that is designed for various screen sizes. This is primarily due to consumer-driven behavior that is increasingly adopting smartphones, tablets, and of course still desktops. But in the future, let’s say virtual reality, augmented reality, and voice assistants move from emerging entertainment to mass consumer adoption, can ecommerce remain the same? Of course not. But this also doesn’t mean that brands will quickly jump onto the bandwagon either as life-altering technology follows an adoption curve before fully being integrated into our lives.

While it’s great to think of a world where we can sit at home, use the last bit of milk, and never have to lift a finger to reorder it as AI, machine learning, and drones takeover, technology typically follows an adoption curve that takes quite some time. That also means that while some brands may be bold and experimentative, the majority will be reactionary and see how things play out before making an investment. Hype is a dangerous thing when you’re running a business. Unfortunately, we marketers love to use buzzwords, which in turn hyper-inflate specific technology, software, and techniques, and this can become a huge distraction.

Over the next 20 years, we’re going to see a massive shift in how we interact with, purchase, and receive goods. This begs the question: what does all of this mean for brands? Let’s break it down by technology adoption and software adoption.

Technology Adoption

New technology doesn’t just happen, it takes a gradual acceptance from the majority of consumers first. The technology adoption curve is a relatively well known and established model that allows businesses to gauge not only how risky it is to implement something new, but also how long it may take to see a return on investment.

Based on the model above, if a brand were to develop a cutting edge solution for virtual reality, they’d still be focusing on the innovators and early adopters. In turn, this would be both a risky play and setting themselves up for a poor ROI because most consumers do not have access to the technology that is required of it. So does it make sense to create a VR offering for Walmart today? Probably not. However, that would not prevent a retailer from creating in-person experiences that allow people to try it out, which could temporarily increase foot-traffic due to its novelty.
As with all novelty though, these types of experiences have a shorter life span and therefore it’s a challenge to project their successfulness. Take Snapchat (Snap) Spectacles. In an effort to truly become a camera company they launched sunglasses with an integrated camera in them so that video can be easily added to Snapchat. They banked on the technology hard, fell short, and their IPO likely saw some negative impact as a result.
The company also used hype in the form of limited popup vending machines to make the hardware exclusive to those who could get their hands on them. Interesting at first, hype at full force, the hardware sales fizzled after only a few months and they launched nationwide without much fanfare. This is just one of countless examples* of organizations building hardware, only for it to fall short and adoption to remain minimal.

*Also see: Google Glass, Chumby, Nintendo power glove, mini-disc players, the Zune.

Software Adoption

New tools and platforms are being released on a regular basis, but it’s easy to get blinded by shiny objects in place of resources that will streamline, improve, or otherwise optimize your existing experiences. For ecommerce professionals, this may be a new payment method such as bitcoin or a beta version of a plugin, but in theory both sound interesting. Flash forward to 2017, bitcoin may be worth a great deal, but for businesses that sell online there is still a relatively small number of consumers who would utilize the medium. Even compared to Apple, Android, or Samsung Pay, these future-focused offerings, user adoption takes quite some time before there is a mass appeal for its use.

Just remember, don’t innovate for the sake of innovation, ensure that when you either bring on new tools, software, or hardware that it will benefit your organization with a return on your investment.

Don’t Innovate For Innovation’s Sake

Hype is real and Gartner has the data to back it up. In their 2016 report focusing on the hype cycle of emerging tech, Gartner calls out the tech that could have drastic effects on retail and ecommerce. Commercial drones, IoT platforms, true AI, 4D… printing? Over the next 10 years, these types of tech will enter the mainstream, but not all will become realized.

For example, virtual reality is considered to be running along the slope of enlightenment and adopted within the next 10 years. We’re already seeing clear signs of adoption such as Oculus, Playstation VR, and even Google Cardboard; however, the content is lacking and it’s almost purely for entertainment purposes right now. How about machine learning and self-driving cars? According to their model, we’re at the peak of inflated expectations, which means over the next 10+ years our understanding and potential for both will likely shift downwards. What this means for ecommerce is that while we may have in our mind a world where self-driving vehicles and drones will be delivering packages, it may be more likely that we’ll just see improved personalization with cities still testing with automated vehicles or battling regulations.

Unfortunately, this means the technology of tomorrow, while shiny and interesting, may not be a viable way to drive revenue or sales. To adopt new technology or software, the most important thing to consider is who your customers are, what their needs are, and how they want to interact with your brand.

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