E-commerce is evolving—for both B2B and B2C companies. From voice shopping to the internet of things, marketers in both sectors are being forced to keep pace with the changing landscape.
In this Q&A, Katrina Gosek, senior director of product strategy for commerce at Oracle, addresses some of the biggest industry shakeups B2B and B2C marketers face, what they can learn from one another, and what skills marketers need today to stay competitive.
What is the biggest change that we’ve seen in the commerce space, specifically on the B2C side, over the past year?
It’s interesting….Technology, or experiences enabled by technology, are no longer pie-in-the-sky, far-out-looking experiences. Things like voice shopping, augmented reality, or machine learning are literally becoming reality and being leveraged by all sorts of e-commerce (B2B and B2C) retailers [and] online businesses.
We were joking yesterday with my team that we’ve been talking about mobile forever, but what is the next big thing? I think we’re finally to the point where the next thing isn’t so far-fetched — like voice-activated shopping. I can see that type of path to instant gratification becoming a reality both in B2B and B2C. I know we see it with Alexa [for] Amazon, but I can see retailers working with third-party vendors to figure out how to make that happen for their own brand.
There are even B2B use cases. For example, we were talking to one customer recently how voice-shopping is one thing they’re thinking about for quick reorders in the near future…. So, it’s not just B2C but also B2B.
The big trend that I’m seeing is what we thought was so far out in the future is kind of becoming reality now around the more innovative things, like augmented reality, voice shopping, the internet of things. These purchasing experiences that were purely online or purely in mobile are now becoming micro moments embedded in day-to-day life, either on your device, devices spread out through your home, or [your] car dashboard. [There are] all sorts of interesting ways to interact and purchase goods, but we were kind of confined to web or mobile in the past. [These] are becoming embedded in new places throughout the day-to-day life.
Is there anything that B2B is doing better than B2C in terms of marketing strategies?
The trend has been, for the last few years, to talk about the B2C-ization of B2B. But we talk to customers who are both B2B and B2C, and there are a lot of interesting things that consumer brands, B2C companies, can learn from B2B, specifically around personalization.
For years, B2B has had custom catalogs, custom microsites, custom accounts because…you have so much more data about your customers. They usually have an account with you; they have a history with a sales rep; you have purchasing history; or, there’s negotiated pricing. So, there’s a lot more that you know about your customer on the B2B side.
B2B companies have been personalizing products, merchandising, deals, or promotions specific to their customers for a long time, and I think that there are some interesting things that B2C companies can take from that and learn.
Personalization is the Holy Grail, but it’s like that thing that’s always out of reach. How do you make sure that whatever you’re showing to your customer is what they want to hear in that moment and in that context? That’s what I think B2C brands can take from B2B. [It’s] getting more data from your customers and figuring out how to use it in ways that make sense and are compelling to the end customer.
What about the other way? Is there anything that B2C can still learn from B2B?
From B2C to B2B, the most interesting thing is back to how I’m seeing a lot more brands connect those pieces of the experience. For example, the pain point that we hear from a lot of our B2B customers [and] companies is we can’t connect the online selling experience, to the digital experience, to if the customer goes to the website. Everything is kind of broken up. So, they’re working really hard to connect all of that.
On the opposite side, B2C has been working really hard over the last five to 10 years to figure out how to connect all of those pieces. We went from multichannel experiences and then the word changed to omnichannel… What is that next beyond omnichannel? It’s kind of almost no channel. Everything is kind of one continuous experience. That’s the Holy Grail for B2C companies.
A lot of them are doing it well, but the ones that are doing it well are connecting marketing to commerce, to service, to social, to CRM. All of that data and those interaction points — the good brands are figuring out how to connect all of that. That’s one thing B2B could learn from B2C: to create a seamless experience between touch points.
For marketers struggling to create this unified experience across the organization, what kind of advice would you provide?
It’s a tough one because it involves so many pieces of the business. Technology is enabling the interaction between all of the pieces that you need a little bit [more easily]. As marketers are looking at how to enable these kinds of experiences, they need to pick technologies that have interconnectivity or extensibility as a core concept.
There are a lot of things to look for there. Because there’s so much content, devices, user data, and internet traffic just swirling around out there today, open APIs [or] RESTful services — those are buzzwords that are no longer relegated to just IT or developers. Because digital is such a core part of how marketers interact with their customers, they need to understand the technologies that they’re picking to connect and enable experiences to achieve what they want around personalization, seamless experiences, or connecting all sorts of data behind the scenes.[Marketers] need to put the concept of extensibility and the types of technology that enable that first so that they can bring together all of the systems, services, and databases on the backend that make those rich digital experiences [and] marketing experiences possible on the front and for the customer.
How does this evolving retail environment change the skill sets marketers need today?
I don’t think marketers need to become IT professionals in any way, shape, or form. They need to be a lot more aware of some of the ways to enable interesting digital experiences and ways that technologies connect to one another (or can connect to one another), so that they can think through customer journeys to figure out how to leverage some of the cool stuff that consumers are using.
We went from direct marketing, to digital marketing, to email marketing, to now it’s kind of all of this at once. Chatbots, dynamic pricing, embedded data everywhere, connected channels, voice shopping, augmented reality, internet of things — all of that is a piece of the puzzle. As a marketer, you need to have a little bit more of a technical hat these days to understand, at least, what to look for when you need to bring those pieces of the puzzle together and what questions to ask.
I’m coming at it from a very technology perspective, but that’s just the type of conversations that I have with marketers from the e-commerce side. Those are the types of things that they’re thinking about, and those are kind of top-of-mind for me, as well.
How do you see brand loyalty changing, if at all, as we continue to evolve with the retail environment?
It’s going to be huge. Loyalty is going to be key. Everybody talks about competing with Amazon these days. I actually don’t think you compete with Amazon; I think you focus on your brand and secure customer loyalty with making sure that the experiences you provide them are connected. If they go into a store, whatever they see online, on their phone, when they talk to a customer service representative, or go on a social channel, [you have to ensure that] they’re not experiencing different things.
Loyalty is going to be key to competing on a global scale and against all of the competition out in the market. That’s always been the case for strong e-commerce businesses. That’s definitely not going to change. What is going to change is the ability to not make customers confused and make sure that everything is kind of connected as they interact with different pieces of your brand in different places.
At the same time, what role will the store environment play?[According to the 2015 “Navigating the New Digital Divide” report by Deloitte Digital], digital interactions influenced 64% of all [in-store] retail sales [that year] — so about $2.2 trillion in revenue in 2015…. Digital is completely transforming the way that we use and interact with stores. We’re already seeing it. We’ve been talking about showrooming for several years. There are going to be more ways to look at merchandise that you want — to touch and feel [it] — but you may end up ordering it online. [A store] may be a place where you pre-order something online [and] go pick it up… It’s going to be less of a place where you go to find what you’re looking for — maybe less of a discovery place — but more of a place where you go to actually seal the deal towards the end of the funnel, rather than the beginning of the funnel. [So,] less of a point of discovery and more of a point of final transaction, picking up a product, or making a final decision on a product.
I don’t think stores are going anywhere; I just think the role of how we use them is going to be much different given how much feasibility [we have] these days to enable the purchasing process.
Correction March 27, 2017: Gosek said “APIs”, not “PIs”, in her fourth response and “type of conversations” not “tech conversations” in her fifth response. Her responses have been updated, accordingly.