The ‘Always-On’ consumer. You might not be familiar with the term, but you’ll be well aware of them; a new breed of fast-moving, tech-savvy shopper, who know all the information they require is just a fingertip swipe of a touchscreen away. This growing demographic is constantly immersed in the digital world, and seeks new ways to interact with brands online.
Keeping up with technology-forward shoppers has always been a challenge for retailers, but the explosion in mobile commerce over the past 12 to 18 months has pushed multichannel consumerism to new levels.
Smartphones have become the key tool through which organisations and customers interact – a recent study predicted they will influence £18 billion sales in UK stores alone this year. Yet in some ways, rather than bringing them closer together, mobile is driving retailers further apart from their customers.
Why? Consistency is one of the major problems. For an audience that never switches off and operates on multiple devices, a seamless experience is everything. Disparate customer journeys, inconsistent messaging and varying brand encounters between platforms can trigger purchase abandonment, or drive these customers to seek out slicker competitors (who, after all, are only a click away).
The challenge of consistent interaction is exacerbated when retailers reach out through all the tools available – partners, affiliates, agencies, the media – to interact with these Always-On consumers in as many channels as possible.
So how do retailers turn risk into reward to reach technology-driven shoppers? Integration is the key to success. Connecting information and intelligence across people and devices, to drive business-changing opportunities – application programming interfaces (APIs) and their management systems are the tools to enable these connections.
A basis for composite applications, APIs allow retailers to expand their reach across developing channels, without compromising security, data or brand message, while at the same time delivering a consistent user experience across all digital platforms.
For example, lack of brand loyalty is leading many retailers to reach out to their consumers in new, innovative ways, such as affiliates and partners. Traditionally, this has required organisations to relinquish control on some level. However, APIs give retailers the capability to control their conversation, and attract consumers they know will be interested in their products or services.
APIs are important not just because of their functionality. One of the Always-On consumer’s hallmarks is the speed at which their behaviour adapts to technology advances – which creates a serious headache for retailers. All too often, by the time they’ve caught up, their customers have already moved further ahead.
By eliminating the technical debt traditionally involved with redeveloping applications or digital platforms from scratch, APIs give retailers the power to respond quicker to consumer appetite. And as the number of Always-On consumers rises, along with their sophistication in terms of absorbing messages through multiple channels, keeping pace will become an even more critical to successful retail.
Of course, these capabilities aren’t news to all. APIs are already being used by many retailers as part of their innovation strategy – it’s a cornerstone of Argos’ digital model, for example. For these organisations, the challenge will be to manage increasing API volumes across the business, in order to create sustainable growth.
If there’s two things that shopper behaviour patterns have made clear, it’s this: APIs are becoming an essential tool for rapid, consistent change in all digital channels, and their implementation can no longer be treated like an ‘as and when needed’ solution. As their popularity continues to rise, retailers need to consider how they will manage multiple APIs long-term, to continue acceleration towards the Always-On consumer.
Catch me if you can: the race to keep pace with consumer demands is a new report from Intel Services, available to download now at http://alwaysonconsumer.co.uk/.
Joel Reid is new business sales leader at Mashery – an Intel company