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Contextual Commerce: What Is It, and Where Is It Going?

Posted by Bethany Frank on 17 Nov 2016


contextual commerce consumer experience

Contextual commerce is the idea of businesses engaging consumers on the websites and apps they use most, with the goal of providing a connected experience that makes discovering and purchasing products as simple as possible. It requires businesses to integrate their product and service offerings into these preferred digital environments in a way that feels natural to consumers.

Business practices originating before the Internet are becoming inapplicable in modern contexts. The origins of contextual commerce can be traced to the days of banner ads, where advertisers would place ads on particular webpages based on the audiences most likely to view them. This kind of advertising is commonplace today in a much more sophisticated form known as remarketing. Chatbots and strategically placed “Buy” buttons on social networking sites like Pinterest are common examples of contextual commerce today. They make it easy for consumers to purchase goods directly within the contexts they discover them.

The rise of WeChat in Asia and Facebook’s aggressive push to enhance its messaging platform, Messenger, illustrate consumer willingness to conduct much more than just conversation on these kinds of platforms. These new touch points create ample opportunity for commerce, but they also require businesses to change how they interact with consumers. Businesses not only have to be present on the platforms consumers are using most, but also have to provide the right information or service at the right time.

Remaining competitive amid these new market realities will require increased focus on user experience. Strategic utilization of technologies like machine learning could help businesses predict consumer desires well enough to make everything from initial product exposure to payments a frictionless experience for consumers. Removing potential obstacles from a consumer’s path to purchase will become more necessary as attention spans dwindle.

Companies like Uber have been wildly successful at disrupting their industries largely due to their ability to anticipate consumer needs and offer value within everyday moments. Integration into Facebook Messenger, for example, enables users to request a ride without leaving the messenger app. Uber’s native app is also well known for its seamless customer experience – users can request rides, see trip details, pay, and leave tips for drivers all within a few taps in a single, well-designed interface.

The IoT is set to become the next frontier for business and commerce, and it will likely further expand the boundaries of contextual commerce. Smart appliances, wearable technology, and voice command assistants like the Amazon Echo will eventually reduce the need for human intervention. These new technologies offer businesses the opportunity to move beyond simply meeting consumer expectations to anticipating and preemptively fulfilling them. Smart refrigerators connected to a consumer’s preferred grocery delivery service, for example, could automatically place orders for food items as supply runs low.

Contextual commerce has come a long way from banner ads, but what we see today is just the beginning. Widespread adoption of chatbots, connected devices, and similar technologies will further increase consumer demand for convenience. Businesses that find innovative ways to make the customer experience as seamless as possible are likely to be the most successful as digital contexts become more immersive and consumer behavior continues to evolve.

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Bethany Frank Digital Marketing Analyst Bethany is responsible for social media and content as part of Alacriti's marketing team. She has a background in writing, publishing, and digital media. Bethany is a graduate of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

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