Think back a few decades, to the days when consumers were tethered to couches and cable boxes.
The days when infomercials roamed the earth. George Foreman Grills and Ginsu knives were ubiquitous.
Advertising was a one-way experience — retailers hawked their goods and services the consumers’ way, with no real interaction, perhaps also sending along a catalog in the mail (remember paper mail?).
5G can help merchants drive business by allowing them to tell their stories in contexts that extend well beyond the flat pages of magazines and catalogs — or even the flatscreens of the laptop or mobile phone.
Adam Coyle, CEO at Digital River, which enables transactions for global brands, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster that in the age of digital commerce, we’re leaving the infomercials in the rear-view mirror and headed firmly into the age of virtual reality. eCommerce sites are striving to incorporate 3-D images into their catalogs and push new functions to be delivered to the consumers’ devices.
Or, as he put it: “A picture is worth 1,000 words. But a video is worth 10,000 words.”
To that end, as we all get used to transacting and interacting on phones, with goggles, even using our cars as connected devices, some of the lines between everyday life and everyday commerce are blurring.
Underpinning it all is the continued shift to 5G, the standard for broadband cellular networks, which is moving the needle, significantly, on what our devices can do.
Coyle told Webster that embedding videos, graphics, data and chats into the brand experience is a function of bandwidth.
“We’re finally at the point where the technology and the infrastructure can deliver those types of hybrid experiences,” where commerce can be all around us, he said, tied to livestream shopping, augmented reality and virtual storefronts. Now, he said, the new capabilities should be compelling for retailers and anybody who wants to engage in eCommerce.
The shift to 5G will be an uneven one, but we’ll get there, he said. Coyle noted that “one of the things that we don’t realize and that we take for granted is just how much mobile traffic and infrastructure is moving through legacy bandwidths.”
Those earlier-generation standards are slowly dying off, he said, though they’re still prevalent in many parts of the world. Coyle said that 5G will enable virtual reality to be incorporated into a mobile experience, whether through a phone or another 5G-connected device.
We’re already seeing inroads being made with video commerce, where videos and livestreams are embedded into apps and on platforms and social media.
Consumers can engage (remotely) with a sales associate to help them with the shopping experience, or watch (for example) a makeup tutorial. A VR experience can “put” outfits on a physical representation of the consumer.
Coyle remarked that many brands have already moved to embrace more immersive commerce experiences driven by better bandwidth. He pointed out that retailers like Crate & Barrel have been able to offer virtual-reality tools that let users tap into augmented reality to see how furniture and other items will look in the consumer’s actual living space.
The advantages are twofold for the retailers, Coyle maintained: Virtual commerce can increase merchants’ sales conversions and reduce returns.
“If you’re actually able to see something and how it looks and understand it before you buy, it’s less likely the item will be returned,” Coyle said. Those operational improvements will lead eCommerce merchants to better compete with their brick-and-mortar brethren (where, of course, the tactile experience is a part of the process).
He pointed to a Digital River enterprise client, Felco, a maker of high-end gardening tools. Its website, according to Coyle, is laden with videos and features a brand ambassador (the host of a popular French gardening show) who demonstrates how to use various tools to maximum effect.
As Coyle noted, those video components translate into “a great demonstration of their brand — and a way to get consumers to believe in the value of that brand and their product differentiation.”
Fulfilling the Fulfillment Requirements
Just as the brands are leveraging all manner of different channels to reach consumers directly, they need to be able to deliver what consumers see, desire and buy in the moment. That’s leading to partnerships with an array of fulfillment experts.
Coyle said Digital River works with a number of specialists in fulfillment and logistics spaces. He said that Amazon has set the bar for consumer expectations about same-day delivery and ease of return. He said many have gotten used to “slapping items back in the bag or box — and sending it back and expecting that it will magically happen. There are a whole industries and whole groups of companies that are emerging to do just that.”
Parsing the Metaverse
As for one of the buzziest buzzwords of the day — the metaverse — Coyle drew some distinctions with that concept and virtual reality.
In the latter case, he said, VR entails taking 2-D data and information, and enhancing it with an experience that is more human, more intimate and more immediate.
The metaverse, he said, will fully embrace 3-D experiences that grow in lockstep with 5G availability. For now, he said, “I don’t think retailers are there yet. They’ll want to ‘see it’ before they have to ‘do it.’ The metaverse will be driven by sports, by entertainment — and [the metaverse] will seep into our lives without our even recognizing it.”
Looking ahead, as 5G becomes ubiquitous and new commerce experiences become the norm, said Coyle, “the lines between real life and advertising will become blurred.”