How to make sense of trending commerce innovations

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Whether it’s the metaverse, shoppable social or cryptocurrencies, brands are racing to determine which trend best aligns with both their tech capabilities and customer value proposition.

During the rush, it’s easy to misjudge how any given trend may or may not connect with your audience. For example, earlier this year, Hostess unexpectedly announced the launch of “$TWINKcoin,” a crypto-inspired, coin-shaped version of its classic Twinkie snack cake.

Hostess not only received backlash from the LGBTQ+ community for its negligent use of the offensive term, but also severely confused its customers. The connection between the baked goods conglomerate and the cryptocurrency world wasn’t clear in their announcement.

That said, Hostess’ desire to insert itself in the often headline-grabbing crypto conversation was understandable. Several consumer brands such as Nike, Sotheby’s and Coca Cola made the same leap in 2021 and were met with success and positive headlines for weeks and months to come. But several months after its launch, no one outside of Hostess understands the point of the brand’s foray into crypto –– but we do remember that it was a flop.

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Avoiding an innovation blunder

Interest in commerce trends such as the aforementioned are still growing. In fact, metaverse-related companies raised more than $10 billion last year, almost doubling the amount raised in 2020. And that trend isn’t slowing down — market size for the metaverse is forecasted to hit nearly $700 billion by 2030.

However, as evidenced, opting into these trends falls flat when it lacks a clear connection to your brand and business model. In the Hostess example, if we set aside the offensiveness of the campaign, the company’s product value, customers and this new foray were still mismatched. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Sephora found success in adopting modern commerce innovations as part of its omnichannel experiences. The beauty retailer adopted technology that enabled their customers to make purchases, communicate with live representatives and gain access to exclusive discounts all on its mobile app.

In stores, as well as in its app, Sephora’s customers benefit from augmented reality (AR) virtual try-ons and Color IQ technology to find the right foundation shade for their skin tone. Sephora uses data generated through both in-person and virtual interactions to provide personalized communications, recommendations, and experiences to customers. This is tech trend adoption done right — Sephora prioritized its customers’ behaviors and pursued experiences that complemented its business model.

To achieve similar results, organizations must analyze whether a new innovation aligns with its brand identity and customer behavior. Additionally, it’s important to build a company culture that prioritizes continuous experimentation. For example, Sephora launched an innovation lab in 2015 to test out in-store experiences before rolling it out widely, thus curbing operational costs while getting real feedback.

Prioritize brand authenticity and customer relevance

Trending commerce innovations often seem impressive, especially from a distance. But it’s critical to identify a clear business case before you commit resources.

Start by determining how a new innovation will drive revenue and reinforce your brand values and image. Just as importantly, ensure your customers are interested –– or can be convinced to  be –– in the experiences the innovation offers. Customer surveys, consumer personas and other feedback mechanisms can help you gauge audience sentiment and needs.

On track to become the most digitally connected generation by 2024, Gen Z is attracted to compelling, relevant content, having grown up on video-first social media and the streaming era with a bevy of content choices at their fingertips. 

A good example of this was Roblox 2020 virtual reality concert with rapper Lil Nas X. The platform is built on the premise of community, social commerce and gaming, and they smartly didn’t abandon these core elements that contribute to its ongoing success. Roblox stuck to what they do best and delivered an experience their audience cared about.

Ultimately, integrating modern commerce innovations requires both self-awareness and experimentation. Self-awareness about whether these innovations are the right fit for your organization’s brand and values is vital to successful rollouts. The ability to experiment to determine whether your customers are interested in these innovations to key.

Create a culture of experimentation, then develop an agile tech stack to match

A culture of experimentation is fundamental in achieving success with commerce innovations. Suppose you’re interested in implementing an NFT component into an existing offering. Rather than rushing to incorporate NFT capabilities into the offering in a disjointed manner, experiment and iterate with several rounds of A/B testing. Over time, this try and try again approach fosters an organizational culture of experimentation that increases the likelihood that innovations will resonate with both new and existing customers.

But even with the right culture, a rigid tech stack can quickly stifle any innovation. Conversely, an agile tech stack empowers your employees to prioritize innovation by making it easier to launch, learn, iterate and potentially scrap commerce innovations with minimal risk or loss. Additionally, agile tech stacks typically include applications that don’t require significant IT expertise, enabling non-technical team members to participate fully in an organizational culture rooted in experimentation.

Work smarter

Despite the increased appetite to opt into commerce innovations among brands, 45% of non-technical business decision-makers are allotting only a minimal amount of their annual budget toward improving or expanding their company’s commerce capabilities. That’s particularly interesting, considering a majority (59%) of those decision-makers say they are more likely to shop with companies offering modern commerce experiences.

Bridging this gap starts with assessing current and projected commerce innovations and how they align with current technological capabilities, brand vision, and customers’ evolving needs. By fostering an agile culture and investing in technologies that enable that agility, an organization can innovate without pause and take advantage of the right-fit commerce trends.

Jen Jones is chief marketing officer for commercetools.

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