Over the past 15 years, e-commerce technology has come a long way in making online shopping easy and convenient. Using a phone, tablet or computer, consumers can now shop for wedding dresses in their pajamas, Christmas presents on the train, or even a house from 1,000 miles away. However, that convenience comes with a trade-off, moving away from immediate satisfaction (i.e. opening a new gadget the moment you buy it) and any feeling of personalization in shopping.
It is clear that some within the retail industry have recognized these flaws because they have taken steps to counter them, with various levels of success. On the immediate satisfaction front, creative delivery options are popping up that both make customers' lives easier and add a new revenue stream for businesses. Delivery times have long been shortened for overnight delivery; but, now with services like Amazon Prime Now - which has been rolled out in over 20 U.S. cities - customers can get their delivery in under two hours. That almost makes it feel like they went to the store to get it, but with the convenience of not actually having to get off the couch. Even high fashion is getting in on the trend, with Hugo Boss's "Boss on Demand" partnering with Uber for same day deliveries in NYC.
The retail industry has also made strides in recreating a personal experience, but with less success. Some have tried replacing the in-person customer service experience with live chatting, which can sometimes build up a queue and become even less convenient. Noting this, customer service chat bots have started popping up. The technology will improve with time but, for now, these bots are minimally equipped to answer questions that would normally appear in the FAQ. If you have questions with any nuance that stray too far off script, you are out of luck. Still, it is better than nothing.
Online purchases - especially gifts - should never feel like a staple item picked from a catalog, but instead a wholly unique purchase with individualized options. Targeted marketing based on preferences and browsing history has helped bridge the gap to make consumers feel like they are seeing things that are relevant to them with customized recommendations, much like an experienced salesperson would be able to do in person. Plus, add-ons for purchases like personal messages and gift wrapping, have always injected a personal element into every purchase. However, as with overnight delivery, these add-ons are a bit antiquated for 2016. The industry needs to find the next generation of personalization online.
I believe that the future of convenience and continued personalization of online shopping will be a merger between online purchase delivery options and customization tools. Gift giving is a prime area for this: options will evolve to include add-ons that are more interactive and innovative than a simple typed message on a card. Vift is a great example, where a video arrives digitally at the exact same time as a gift package delivery, recreating the personal feeling of giving a gift in person - both for the recipient (who gets to experience the "face" of the person giving a gift) and the sender (who gets to think a little bit harder and send a more genuine message). With the rise of virtual and augmented reality, I expect we'll continue to see innovation in personalized delivery in e-commerce - although this brings its own challenge of making solutions accessible and affordable to the majority of consumers.
Businesses will always find creative ways to improve the customer experience because that is what brings the customer back. Everyone now has an online store, but the key is to make the customer feel like he or she is shopping (and receiving) the old fashioned way.