Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Fad or future? Demystifying today’s fragmented world of emerging channels

By Annie Little, Associate Strategy Director, Initials

The pandemic has permanently altered the retail landscape. Touchpoints in customer journeys are converging, with some previously used for awareness, engagement and education now becoming shoppable purchase channels.

There are now numerous types of retail commerce where convergence is evident; from qCommerce, social commerce and contextual commerce, to newly emerging livestream commerce. You name it, there seems to be a type of commerce for every letter of alphabet. 

In this increasingly fragmented world, omnichannel thinking – in the sense of simply online versus offline – has become redundant.

So it’s little wonder that brands can be confused about which options offer the most effective way to build a presence that reaches consumers at the right time. And with such a rapid shift in technologies and consumer culture, it’s not just about understanding what’s happening today, but also horizon scanning to know what’s coming next.

Marketers, strategists and innovators wish more than anything for a way to predict the future of retail and consumer behaviour. Forewarned is forearmed after all. Sadly, it’s not possible. If it was, we’d all be millionaires.

Don’t despair: experience has taught us there are ways to get a good steer on the future. There are several strategies we’d advise your brand to adopt to understand the road ahead.

Separate fads from trends

Starting with fads, let’s consider voice search technology. More than half of all the searches across the internet were expected to be voice-based by the end of 2021, but a December 2021 study by eMarketer found that only 9% of adults have ever shopped via voice.

The reason why v-commerce remains widely untapped is that the user experience with voice assistants is not optimal. Errors create an aversion to using an algorithm or a device, even if it improves with usage. With the involvement of money in a V-Comm transaction, the aversion is stronger.

Shopping via v-commerce also creates an ‘invisible gap’ between user and basket which lowers confidence in purchase. Placing a product in your cart (physical or virtual) is underpinned by a feeling of ownership. Shopping with voice lacks this visual cue and creates distance between the user and the product.

Replicating the context from eCommerce in a voice only interface is clearly not feasible, and consumers are unlikely to adopt this channel long-term, unless marked improvements are made to the user experience.  

In contrast to this example, trends solve problems and get stronger over time. Just look at Amazon Go. Clearly the format has cemented the concept of autonomous shopping in mainstream retail, with Amazon opening seven stores across the UK – and unveiling plans for 260-plus stores by 2024. The concept is based on a real human need for convenience and Covid safety, with technology that responds to shoppers’ desire for cashless, touch-free checkouts.

Thus, proving that technology driven innovation can be disruptive and successful if it helps enhance people’s lives, offers a solution (not just data) and provides confidence in the entire process.

There is a fragile line that separates a trend from a fad. Knowing the unique needs of your audience, and whether the channel truly serves those desires, is key to working out what’s a fad – and what’s a growing trend.

Let the audience decide

Another essential factor is the target market your brand is catering to. Whether your brand’s message is in sync with their identity and respects their unique needs will determine the success of any marketing activity. 

For that reason, consumer needs should always come first – with channel a secondary consideration.

That means brands must assess all of the channels to market that are available to them through the lens of consumer expectation, keeping in mind the pain points each channel solves (or purports to solve).

Ultimately, a cold calculation is required: only emerging channels that respond to people’s needs and behaviours, not their short-lived desires, are worth investment.

Keep on pushing forward

The law of inertia states that something will remain the same unless acted upon by an outside force. In this way, trends will only occur when one of two things happens:

  • Legislation persuades people to adopt new routines;
  • An influential force releases a concept to widespread acclaim.

Staying abreast of daily news and cultural developments, and questioning their impact on your target market, enables your brand to harness growing trends.

Monitoring change sounds, and is, fairly simple; it’s what you do with the information that counts. Our advice is to always be proactive, spending time experimenting with new ideas and technology in ways that anticipate and offer solutions to consumers’ pain points. If you don’t do this, your rivals will.

It is difficult to identify trends and fads before they happen. Yet understanding the difference between them is essential for survival. Whereas fads increase top-of-mind awareness and demonstrate your organisation’s timeliness, trends will help you expand your business and get ahead of your competition.

The three steps outlined above are the foundations of a successful approach to future scanning, allowing you to spot and seize emerging trends, choosing the right channels that will garner the greatest response from your customers.

With this in mind, now is the time to get to grips with the burgeoning range of channels before the commerce lexicon gets even longer, and your brand gets left behind.