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Content and Commerce Integration: Welcome To The Machine

At Digital Clarity Group we’ve been closely tracking developments in content and commerce, and there are signs that these two formerly separate worlds are connecting in multiple ways:

  • WCM software vendors are expanding into e-commerce products and solutions (e.g. Sitecore Commerce and Episerver Digital Commerce)
  • WCM and e-commerce vendors are forging strategic alliances (e.g.  Magento and Acquia)
  • Digital agencies once focused on web content and digital marketing are building e-commerce capabilities
  • Forward-thinking enterprise technology buyers are compiling RFPs for digital transformation projects that encompass both content and commerce components.

In the last few months one trend emerging in content and commerce integration is the role of machine intelligence and automation and the advent of contextual commerce. Building on prior analysis and more recent interviews with executives across the content and commerce universe, we’ve just published a new report on this topic. You can download the report here for free (registration required).

What is contextual commerce?

Contextual commerce describes a situation in which a customer buys a product directly while viewing it online, rather than having to go to a separate website, search for the item, place it in the shopping cart, and fill out payment information. Other terms that have been used to describe this type of “in the situation” transaction include conversational commerce and, in the publishing and media world, “shoppable” content.

Today, media companies and social media platforms are the main proponents of contextual commerce. These companies share the same key challenge of needing to find new ways to monetize content, since both are heavily dependent on advertising for revenue. Facebook, for one, despite its efforts to create other paid content revenue streams like gaming and payments, now makes about 95% of its revenues from advertising.

The promise these proponents share is that the current online purchasing experience is fragmented. Today, if you see something you’re interested in while reading an online article – say, a profile of an actor where the actor is wearing a watch you admire – you need to leave the article, conduct a separate web search, and proceed through product and payment pages before you can actually complete a transaction. In a contextual commerce experience, you would never have to leave the article: through a mechanism like a pop-up message box, you could complete the entire search and transaction.

Context increasingly powered by machine intelligence

It is machine intelligence that underlies many of today’s contextual commerce developments. Amazon Echo is probably the most widely known example. The device, equipped with a voice-enabled service called Alexa, can conduct a wide range of tasks, including placing orders for goods on Amazon. And Amazon is just one of many companies that are developing conversational interfaces for engaging with customers. Billions of dollars in venture capital money has flowed into companies now developing chatbots that work on messaging platforms.

What’s more, messaging platforms themselves are receiving investment: in addition to Facebook Messenger now being open to third party developers, newer platforms are emerging. Kik is one example: this company targets U.S. teens, and since its founding in 2009 has grown to about 300 million users. In a panel on content and commerce that I moderated at the Gilbane conference in Boston last week, a Kik executive noted that content on the platform in the form of conversations and is becoming more engaging through the addition of video and images.

Prepare for CX and integration challenges

Before anyone gets too excited about how chatbots will immediately drive hockey-stick revenue growth, it’s important to look at the significant challenges content and commerce integration faces.

The first is that the complexity involved in integrating different technologies cannot be underestimated. In our discussions with organizations that have recently purchased and implemented new technology, and with the implementers (e.g. agencies and systems integrators) themselves, we hear time and time again how integration proved more time-consuming and difficult than expected. Every organization has a unique mix of legacy, home-grown, and customized systems. Even after implementations that have been considered a success, we hear that customers struggle to improve user adoption and make use of new technologies. One common refrain from marketing professionals in particular is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of new data and reports they receive, but don’t know what to do with. Now imagine the additional data that will come from billions of customer conversations: it may be valuable, but organizations need to be ready to extract actionable insight from them.

The second is that in the whirlwind of excitement about new technologies like chatbots, companies need to keep laser-focused on customer experience and how these developments may have an impact on it. It is still early stages for this technology: before making plans to replace your entire front-line customer service team with chatbots, organizations should consider conducting controlled experiments with non-mission critical processes.

2017 is going to a year where chatbots and automation become key topics in content and commerce integration, and indeed in customer experience management overall. It will be important that organizations looking to buying new technology keep in perspective what their own goals are first and foremost – is it driving revenue, entering new markets, launching new products? These considerations, rather than getting the latest and greatest new technology, should be top of mind for decision-makers.



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