I was fortunate to spend part of 2016 with Singularity University at NASA’s research centre in Silicon Valley. I was at the futuristic think tank along with 79 other technologists and entrepreneurs from across the globe on the global solutions program.
Whilst I was there immersing myself in cutting edge technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, digital biology and other technologies of tomorrow, I couldn’t but help but draw connections to the industries I know in digital marketing and ecommerce. I started to observe key trends on where I believe these sectors are heading and I recently had the privilege of keynoting these ideas at the UK marketing conference, Performance Marketing Insights.
So what does the accelerated impact of technology on society mean for the 5 years ahead in ecommerce and digital marketing? Further more, where are the opportunities and risk areas? Here are five predictions.
1. Mixed reality and Voice will be how we shop in the future
Mixed reality is defined as applying augmented reality (AR) to our physical world. With recent technology advances, it’s time is set for centre stage. Facebook announced the coming of Facebook glasses at their recent F8 Developer conference, we have the top secret MagicLeap and soon to be launched Microsoft Hololens.
Along side this, voice recognition in the home is not only going to be important, it’s going to be how you control your home in every way. Amazon Echo, Google Home and a few days ago, China’s version DingDong has just launched.
So why is this important for ecommerce ? When I use Amazon Echo in my home, I’m just not comfortable with the concept of talking to it and buying products. I want to see products before I buy. Well imagine that you can use voice command to materialise 3-dimensional objects overlaid on the physical world around you. In your living room, you can magically materialise purchasable products right in front of your eyes.
In this home setting, I believe we will see mixed reality and voice go hand-in-hand. Literally, you’ll voice command to materialise a viewable purchasable product — pinch, expand, flip and then say ‘Buy’. This isn’t as futuristic as you may think. Microsoft Hololens have carried out tests of visualising the Volvo in 3d using their Hololens technology. Now image the car materialise in your drive way where it could live. You open it, view the engine, test different colours of exterior and interior, then, you say ‘Buy’. Not so many year’s ago, we marvelled at people buying beds on mobile phones. This too will be normal in the coming years.
Online shopping will be reinvented and importantly specific eye wear wont be needed at all. We’ll be talking ‘interfaces’, not just ‘screens’. Plugging into ecosystems such as Echo’s will enable startups and brands alike to take advantage of this next wave.
2. Delegation of work to your mobile
We have super computer in our pockets and today we use them as simple tools. Tomorrow, we’ll use them as a partner to delegate work to.
This will be enabled by the dawn of personal assistants and all the big names have their hand in this world, Cortana from Microsoft, Assistant (formerly Now) from Google, Siri from Apple and M from Facebook. It’s also good to see smaller smart players such as Hound and Viv.
Viv is a really interesting case. Their founders were the team who developed Siri and they have already sold the business to Samsung which will enable them mass distribution. Watching their demo this summer, I got a glimpse of how they are trying to play out their mission to radically simplify the world by providing an intelligent interface to everything. With an open architecture for third party products and services, you can say ‘Pay Steve £20’ and with one click to confirm, it’s done. So we can expect by 2017, the ability to undertake more complex shopping research such as ‘Find me 3 of the best water proof boots for under £75 and on offer’.
Why is this important for ecommerce? Well, crucially personal assistants will be used to save consumers time. If a computer is doing your product research for you, price and ratings will become even more important. After all, a computer doesn’t care about inspiration and experience. We will see a rise in traffic to marketplaces such as Google Shopping and Amazon. Plugging into open architecture, products such as Samsung’s Viv, will enable brands to connect with customers in ways unimagined today.
3. Super intelligence becomes a utility
Literally 4 years ago, Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability struggled with comprehending the difference between a cat and a dog on YouTube. Today, some of Google’s search rankings algorithms are updated by AI rather than by a smart human. Facebook, earlier this year, announced that their AI capability DeepFace is now better at facial recognition than human. This really is moving at an exponential pace.
AI and it’s super intelligence is fast becoming a utility where soon we will be able to pay a small fee per use just as we would buy small blocks of cloud computing power cheaply on Amazon Web Services. It’s also becoming democratised. Google, Facebook and Amazon have launched open-source toolkits for their AI and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities. Companies such as Kaggle are enabling businesses to run competitions for data scientists to compete and solve challenges.
There is an opportunity for ecommerce players to use democratised AI and ML to utilise their data, learn more about what their customers want and generate increased revenue and loyalty. Companies such as Increasingly, which I cofounded, are leveraging this democratisation of AI. Our product is harnessing machine learning to grow average order value for ecommerce retailers.
4. Robots transform consumer shopping
Tomorrow, we are going to see robots prevalent in our factories, homes, schools, in old age homes and even in our stores.
Take Fellow Robot, a company I met on campus at NASA. They have a partnership with Lowes, the US hardware chain, where they are providing in-store robots. The robots greet you as you walk in, they guide you to what you are looking for and if unavailable help you order online then and there. This is really interesting technology to me because of the potential to have a truly data centric in-store experience that is connected to online. For example, you will be easily able to match the physical visitor to the online visitor and re-market to them.
Amazon Go was also launched as a concept this month. It entirely automates the in-store experience using sensors and machine learning.
Convenient user experience and efficiency gains are clearly positives to robotics and machine learning in our stores but there are also implications for retail workers. I researched the wider negative implications of what’s known as technological unemployment and its solutions here.
5. Driverless cars, free time and cheaper prices
Earlier this year, Uber announced that driverless taxis would cost one tenth of the cost of taxis with drivers. Cost reduction is also the vision for transportation of goods by Otto, a driverless truck company, that Uber just acquired.
In a world of cheaper transportation of goods and local manufacturing using 3d printing, cost of goods sold is set to decrease for retailers. If this is passed on to consumers, we will see cheaper prices.
From a consumer perspective, cheaper goods and increased free time as we are chauffeured around in driverless cars means consumer buying patterns are set to change. For starters, the monday morning spike is conversions could move to sunday night as you’re driven home.
Technology is impacting society at an exponential rate and affecting countless industries. Without a doubt, ecommerce and digital marketing will change and fast. This presents huge opportunities to those who understand the future and time it right.
Share your comments and questions and be part of the future world discussion! If you’d like me to speak at your conference, please get in touch. Thanks! @srisharma