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GUEST COMMENT The future of ecommerce

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by Peter Veash

What do cars, fridges, TVs, washing machines and the humble toothbrush all have in common? The answer is that at some point in 2013 it is likely they will all become a shopping channel.

Ecommerce is teetering on the brink of a ‘consumerable revolution’ and brands will need to think on their feet to keep up. The channel is moving away from a reliance on a central device to the individual. As Roger Kay of Forbes has put it: “Essentially you are surrounded by your devices and the cloud coordinates them for you.” This has been triggered by the rise of smartphones as the remote control for people’s lives. Instead of having to laboriously search on your TV for a programme you want to record, you can now tell your smartphone to tell your telly to record it. Smartphones are increasingly interacting with other devices and this trend is set to soar as more and more everyday items come online.

So what’s this got to do with ecommerce? The CES (Consumer Electric Show) and a bit of imagination provides all the clues.

Whirlpool, a company not renowned for its innovation, showcased its 6th Sense Live technology, which enables your washing machine and tumble dryer to be networked with your other devices, meaning that it can send alerts to your tablet telling you that the wash is finished. Is it too much of a stretch, therefore, to think that the next version will be smart enough to tell you that you’ve run out of washing powder and then automatically link up to your Tesco Shopping list? In a word, no. The same is true of toothbrushes. Not only will it tell you that you’ve forgotten to brush your teeth, but it will know when you need to book a dentist appointment. Conceivably Colgate could become the custodian of healthy teeth and gums by owning the whole dental ecosystem.

How about Smart Fridges? Samsung’s T9000 is scheduled to hit our kitchens later this year. And it had the critics at CES raving, with Wired commenting: “It’s a hint as to what your future fridge will look like. While the screen was easy to mock, once you see it in action on a refrigerator it’s as natural as an in-dash GPS screen. It just seems meant to be.” An inventory app lets you itemise each product or ingredient you use and will alert you to its status. Another app will help you find recipes from those objects in your refrigerator and add any extra ones to your shopping list. It also prints vouchers, and clearly, when your fridge knows what’s inside it and what kind of things you shop for each week, it has the potential to deliver some extremely targeted discounts. The implications of this are huge not just for supermarkets or food brands but for organisations such as Vouchercodes and MoneySupermarket.

And finally, my favourite, the autonomous car. Amazingly the laws in Nevada were amended in 2011 and came into force in March last year to make room for the drive-itself car. Not only will ‘drivers’ now have more time to spend online, given that they won’t have to concentrate on the road, but brands with a roadside presence will be able to target them directly on their journey, sending offers and discounts before they drive past.

Add all of the above to the much discussed Apple TV and we’ll have a completely altered shopping reality, whereby our products will be able to order us replacements and we’ll be able to buy clothes we see on a film by pressing a button.

For retailers this inevitable change in ecommerce will mean having to become completely seamless across all digital channels, with the user becoming the conductor and the devices becoming the instruments which can played separately or as an ensemble.

Peter Veash is chief executive of The BIO Agency

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