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E-Commerce

Google Alert - e-commerce

Seize counterfeit goods imported into the US in connection with a transaction on an e-commerce platform; Impose the maximum fines and civil penalties ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 11:37 pm
Even those who already had e-commerce stores had to make significant adjustments to their online business to manage their inventory, logistics, e- ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 7:41 pm
The titans of e-commerce — Amazon, Wayfair and Wal-Mart — have a ... of course in ecommerce, but we'll also see other container cargo moving ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 7:15 pm
Sales in China jumped 11.5% during the second quarter, which also includes e-commerce growth of 43%. Clearly, Skechers' international business ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 6:29 pm
Reducing delivery times is a key consumer expectation in e-commerce and is increasingly important as logistics professionals strive to stay ahead of the ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 6:22 pm
Pharma e-commerce market is expected to gain market growth in the forecast period of 2020 to 2027. Data Bridge Market Research analyses the market ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 6:11 pm
Though this shows a lot of promise for the future of the e-commerce sector, it also highlights the fact that businesses, platforms, and regulators need to ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 6:07 pm
Data from Vtex, LatAm's leading e-commerce platform, shows an increase in store sales as new merchants are going online. “Across LatAm, we saw a ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 5:37 pm
The facilities include e-commerce centers fueled by the pandemic. by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer. While the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting some ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 5:15 pm
Overall, 44 percent of small business owners who sell products or services online have seen an increase in e-commerce sales with an average of 37 ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 4:52 pm
The coronavirus is fueling e-commerce growth. Deloitte is estimating overall retail sales for the holiday quarter will increase only by 1% to 1.5%, but ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 4:41 pm
As a result of the changes that took place during 2020, consumers in Estonia increasingly give preference to domestic and European e-commerce ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 4:07 pm
But the pandemic has fast-tracked e-commerce like never before. Due to store closures and safety measures, nearly two-thirds of U.S. pet owners ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 3:22 pm
Can E-Commerce Save Retail? Get physical, social, and digital. It's time to integrate. Next. --shares; link.
Posted: October 19, 2020, 3:00 pm
GoBazzar, a Dubai-based e-commerce platform, is set to launch a price comparison portal on Tuesday to give customers to search, compare and view ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 2:37 pm
The e-commerce company has also named Ariel Bardin, formerly vice ... He also worked on product strategy and business development for Google ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 2:04 pm
The need for alternatives to capacity-constrained air freight, combined with rapidly growing online shopping demand, is behind the expansion of e- ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 1:52 pm
Wayflyer, an eCommerce revenue-based financing and marketing analytics platform, announced its Seed Capital raise of $10.2 million. The capital ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 1:34 pm
The startup, which has raised $200,000 in seed to date, believes that it can help SMBs compete with the giants in the online shopping industry. “Ninety- ...
Posted: October 19, 2020, 1:30 pm
... the dimensions of customer-perceived value and the importance of each dimension, given the background of China's huge e-commerce market.
Posted: October 19, 2020, 1:27 pm

Blogs

In a previous article, we discussed what Composable Commerce is and why it is essential for businesses to adopt. In short, brands that prioritize infusing digital throughout their entire strategy need a commerce framework that empowers them to build, deploy, and optimize experiences seamlessly. 

Packaged Business Capabilities are a part of Composable Commerce and are used to create a best of breed solution. But having talked to prospects and customers, it became clear that there is a lot of confusion. Most industry folks are on-board with the microservices concept, but now there is a new kid on the block, which raises many questions.  What are Packaged Business Capabilities? Are they different from microservices? How Packaged Business Capabilities relate to microservices or other architecture patterns?

This article provides answers to those questions, and places Packaged Business Capabilities among the modern architecture terminology.

Definitions

According to Gartner: Packaged business capabilities (PBCs) are software components representing a well-defined business capability, functionally recognizable as such by a business user. Technically, a PBC is a bounded collection of a data schema and a set of services, APIs, and event channels. The well-implemented PBCs are functionally complete to ensure autonomy (no critical external dependencies, no need for direct external access to its data). PBCs are meant to be used as building blocks for application product suites and custom-assembled application experiences.

Microservices have many definitions. We will take the one by Sam Newman: microservices are small, autonomous services that work together. A straightforward explanation, but several characteristics in the image below compliment it.

sn

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities: modeled around the business domain, decentralized, isolated. Because there is no defined size for microservices and Gartner says that PBCs can also vary in size, it can become confusing.

PBCs and Microservices

The key to establishing a relation between the two terms is to understand that microservices are an architectural style that defines how you break down the application into "services" – a well-defined software term. While PBCs are defined as building blocks for applications or suites. From this perspective, they are complimentary, and PBCs can be considered aggregations of microservices. The number of microservices can be one or more, as depicted in the image below. Now all the similarities in definitions make sense.

pbc

PBCs value

At this point, you might be asking questions: "why do I need PBCs? What is the point? Where is the value?".

Theoretically, in the microservices world, you can create a best of breed solution consisting of 50 microservices, each being from a different vendor. But nobody does it because the integration costs will be sky high and it will outweigh any benefits. Imagine your business users having to deal with 10 UIs from different vendors within a single commerce application. It sounds like a nightmare because it is. This is why businesses usually consume applications in larger pieces.

Consumption includes multiple aspects, including:

  • Licensing
  • Usage
  • Documentation
  • Education

In a nutshell:

  • Microservices are how you design, build, and deploy your application.
  • PBCs are how you bring your application to market and how your users consume it.

Reduced Complexity for the business

With PBCs, a business has to deal with a smaller number of building blocks. Think of it as the same way people group animals into six primary animal groups: amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles. It is just easier to deal with it this way. Overall it makes it easier to understand the value provided by the application, create a best of breed solution that fits their needs, deploy it, and train their personnel.

Streamlined go-to-market for the vendor

While the business application's core capabilities and value won't often change, how it is broken down into microservices will be changing over time. New microservices might appear, and the older ones may be altered to accommodate new technologies and frameworks. In the SaaS environment, the underlying architecture is not exposed to the customer as they consume the APIs. Because of this, PBCs allows the business to maintain their customer-facing

What is the right size for PBC?

PBC size will differ from application to application, and the vendor should define PBCs based on how their customers consume their application, but I will provide some considerations:

  • A PBC is too small if there is no business user or use-case which would need the PBCC separately from the other PBCs. Example: nobody would use eligibility rules without catalog master data management.
  • A PBC is too large when you get into a situation where customer consumes separate parts (microservices) instead of the whole PBC. Example: if inventory is often not used and replaced with a 3rd party service, it should be split into a separate PBC.
  • A PBC is of the right size when the customer can immediately link it to the business domain and quickly describe what they expect from it. Example: probably, every user will immediately understand what Catalog is about.

Can a monolith application be a PBC?

The simple answer is – yes. Suppose the application's scope is small enough that it is always consumed as a whole and is virtually indivisible by a business user. In that case, the whole application can be considered a PBC. And of course, the application should satisfy the requirements provided by Gartner. Example: a payment gateway with APIs is a PBC.

 

If you want to learn more about PBCs and Composable Commerce – check here.

Author: Anatolii Iakimets
Posted: September 29, 2020, 12:55 am

The shift from monolithic commerce platforms to modular, MACH-based, composable services is well underway for many brands, manufacturers and retailers. 

With the release of Gartner’s report Composable Commerce Must Be Adopted for the Future of Applications and the firm’s bold prediction that 30% of digital commerce organizations will use packaged business capabilities (PBCs) to construct their application experiences by 2024, curiosity (and confusion) around how microservices and PBCs play into modern commerce architectures is growing. 

So what are packaged business capabilities? Are they the same as microservices? How do you navigate a landscape where commerce technology vendors use these terms somewhat interchangeably, and know what approach is right for you? 

 

PBCs are business capabilities 

A packaged business capability, by Gartner’s definition is a “software component that represents a well-defined business capability, recognizable as such by a business user… consists of a bounded collection comprising a data schema and a set of services, APIs and event channels.”  

In simpler terms, a PBC is an application or service built around a specific business function. Rather than the function being one component of a larger, monolithic application (such as an eCommerce platform, CRM or CMS), a PBC is decoupled from other services and communicates with other components through APIs. 

If you’re thinking “PBCs sound a lot like microservices” -- you’re not far off. But by Gartner’s definition, a PBC involves a grouping of APIs (a bounded collection) that serve a specific business capability, versus microservices which are more tightly scoped and granular (though microservices may also have multiple APIs and endpoints within them).  

However, some microservices do fit the criteria for a PBC. If a microservice represents a business capability in a way that is clear to a business user, it qualifies. Martin Fowler, known for coining the term “strangler pattern” as a metaphor for refactoring a monolith to microservices, asserts the focus on size can be misleading. In his conversations, he sees a range of service sizes and prefers to refer to them all as microservices, rather than argue over what constitutes “micro.”  #HowBigIsAMicroservice 

 

Today, many vendors and developers use the vernacular term microservices to refer to the modular, loosely coupled services they provide, regardless of size (or may use the terms microservices and packaged business capabilities interchangeably). As an application leader, it’s important to ask vendors the right questions and ultimately understand how any given modular service should fit within your composable application. 

 

Why are PBCs preferred to granular microservices for Composable Commerce? 

Both PBCs and microservices are headless, strongly encapsulated, loosely coupled, independently deployable and scalable. Thus, they both satisfy the tenet of modularity within the Composable Commerce paradigm. An application constructed PBC-first (focused on the business value of its modular components) has several benefits over one constructed from hundreds of granular microservices:  

 

Reduced complexity 

A commerce application consisting of hundreds of independent microservices, each with their own APIs and logic, requires tremendous effort to stitch together -- even when they come from the same vendor. A complex architecture not only requires an advanced degree of technical maturity and governance, but also larger budgets and resource teams.  

Because bounded collections of APIs within a PBC are deployed as a unit, initial set up and maintenance is greatly simplified, as is changing business logic and integrating new components. This supports technical agility, accelerates time-to-market (and time-to-revenue), and can reduce Total Cost of Ownership. 

 

Enhanced clarity 

A composable architecture constructed with PBCs makes it easier for Business teams to participate in the design and deployment of new experiences. When components are easily recognized for their function in the business, both Business and IT can articulate how requests and requirements translate into the application roadmap. 

For example, the Business may desire a mobile self-checkout solution to support social distancing within their physical stores, or to bring digital commerce to live events and trade exhibits. Business envisions Catalog, Pricing and Payments would connect with Cart and Checkout through a progressive web application, integrated with their third party Personalization and Analytics applications. 

 

Business-centricity 

Packaged business capabilities also make it easier to provide user-friendly business tooling and dashboards for administrators, merchandisers, service reps and back office operations. Building such tools for highly granular microservices is not only a make-work project, but is also far less practical than constructing UIs for PBCs like Catalog, Accounts, Pricing, Promotions, Inventory, Checkout and Payments. 

Off-the-shelf vendors are more likely to offer out-of-the-box business tooling if their own applications are PBC-first with a strong set of core capabilities versus highly granular with hundreds of microservices. 

 

Are ecosystem applications PBCs? 

Though arguably “modular” and certainly part of a typical Composable Commerce environment, many ecosystem applications like Tax, PIM, Reviews, Search and Analytics do not fit the criteria for packaged business capabilities. There are some exceptions, such as headless and API-first solutions such as Voucherify for promotions. 

Most ecosystem apps, extensions and “plug ins” are not API-first nor headless and are deployed as monoliths -- however small. They offer APIs to support integration, but their APIs are not configurable the same way as PBCs’ are. Typically delivered as SaaS applications, every customer consumes them in the same way as every other subscriber beyond a predefined set of customizations that the ecosystem vendor controls. If you can extend the application to accommodate your unique requirements, it’s typically achieved through changing code (which the vendor owns), not logic in the API layer. 

The benefit of using third-party, bolt-on applications is to leverage best-of-breed within a composable application. A Composable Commerce Enterprise need not reinvent the wheels of highly specialized functions, and can benefit from a vendor’s own innovation and investment at scale. It’s important to ensure these third-party solutions can be configured through your core set of packaged business capabilities through an extensibility framework. 

 

Right-sizing PBCs 

Just like microservices can be too micro and fail to represent clear business capability, PBCs run the risk of becoming little monoliths if they’re too large. For example, if tax capabilities live within Payments, Cart or Checkout services, the organization may lose agility around extending tax logic to the appropriate touchpoints. If tax logic must be continually changed, this can impact agility. The application will also be essentially locked into the tax solution as-is (or require duplication of services by hooking a separate Tax service into the architecture). 

IT leaders must take a holistic view of their Composable Commerce environment. The beauty of Composable Commerce is you’re never locked into a specific vendor or service, and you can leverage a mixed portfolio of off-the-shelf PBCs and microservices, in-house services and ecosystem apps. Anything that no longer serves the business can be swapped out for something that does. The right granularity of each PBC at any given time should be determined by business need, and balanced with cost, complexity and time-to-market. 

 

If you want to learn more from our specialist, get in touch. We'd be happy to help

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: September 19, 2020, 10:38 pm

This post is an excerpt from Brian Beck's Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce: Seize the Opportunity, available now

The process of choosing an Ecommerce platform can seem overwhelming, particularly for B2B organizations that have little internal expertise or experience in Ecommerce.

However, there is a well-documented process that I share in my book Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce that breaks platform selection down into manageable steps.

In this post, I share the first step: Document Objectives.

Before you even think about what technology platform will be best suited to your company, you have to define business objectives. Objectives should tie to your expected Return on Investment (ROI) model, and can also include intangible benefits that you expect from Ecommerce. Objectives can include:

  • Increased share of wallet from existing customers Incremental revenue from new customers
  • Shift of sales to more efficient channels (particularly repeat orders)
  • Higher gross margins obtained through online selling
  • Increased customer loyalty obtained by making buyers’ jobs easier, as evidenced by increased lifetime value of each customer
  • Enhanced competitive advantage vs. non-Ecommerce enabled competitors
  • Improved organizational effectiveness, particularly in the sales and support functions
  • Overall enhancement of enterprise value

Your business objectives need to be translated into technological requirements; that is, the technology platform you choose must be able to support the objectives.

Too often companies seek to deploy technology for technology’s sake, but this is backwards. Objectives are the foundation upon which technology should be constructed.

Fundamental to this effort is acquiring sufficient customer feedback that will provide you with a thorough understanding of their needs and expectations. By putting the customer first in this process, your requirements and ultimate system selection will be based on a foundation of meeting the customer’s needs, making it more likely that you will gain adoption after you launch your new web site.

I strongly recommend taking the following steps to understand both your customer and your business needs:

1. Interview your sales and customer support teams

Look for common areas where your customers are seeking to use a web site to both buy online and receive support via your site (such as re-ordering products, checking order status, looking up inventory availability, finding product and compatibility information, administering accounts, and other tasks).

Seek out ways that the sales and support teams can be made more effective by using online tools.

2. Interview your customers

Identify a group of customers that you can talk with in person or by phone (or both) to understand their expectations of your Ecommerce web site. Explore areas such as:

  • What are their expected purchase patterns online?
  • What are their expectations from a digital usability standpoint?
  • Which products will they purchase online (e.g. what products do they regularly buy from you on a repeat order basis)?
  • Are there any categories which they don’t want to buy online, and if so, why not?
  • Which other web sites do they use to research and buy similar products?
  • What parts of their current offline workflows would they most likely want to move online?
  • For example, obtaining order status, finding delivery information, researching product details prior to making a purchase, or paying invoices or open credit balances.
  • Look for repetitive tasks that will be made easier by bringing them online. Do they need support for “punch out” (ERP-based) ordering?
  • How do customers want to interact with you across device types (mobile, desktop, etc.)?

Ultimately, you want to discover which customer interactions will become easier via online channels, and focus on building these into your technology requirements. Making these actions easier will be critical for you to drive adoption of your new Ecommerce site. Be sure to talk with at least 20 customers and survey different types of customers across industry segments, including customers of different sizes.

3. Form a customer advisory board

This can emerge from the group you interviewed and will help you through the Ecommerce development process. The most successful B2B Ecommerce implementation I have seen have leveraged a group of customers that can be involved at every stage of the web site development process, providing feedback as you build. This team of customers can be called upon to review your web site creative designs, provide a test panel for usability of the site, and be used as a sounding board for features you are considering adding.

Trends are working in your favor. Twenty years ago, if a B2B company wanted to build an Ecommerce presence, they would need to develop the technology from the ground up, building it mostly in-house and usually spending tens of millions of dollars in the process. In contrast, today there are many platforms that offer a wide variety of functionalities, at a lower cost and with more implementation resources available than ever before.

The challenge in having a wide variety of options, however, is that there are a wide variety of options. Finding the best platform can be exhausting and confusing, but getting smart about the process is the only way to successfully develop and implement an Ecommerce technology, while also limiting the risk of failure.

Elastic Path is proud to sponsor Brian Beck’s Free Virtual Book Tour series featuring a breakdown of key concepts from the book along with real-world success stories from eCommerce leaders at Johnstone Supply, Illumina, Pella, Cardinal Health, and more. Register today

Author: Brian Beck
Posted: August 17, 2020, 8:28 pm

This post is an excerpt from Brian Beck's Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce: Seize the Opportunity, available now

Channel conflict is largely centered on product price

When a manufacturer or brand sells directly to the end user of the product, they always have more overall margin to work with. Manufacturers have the ability to sell products at a lower price, as they can now capture the “retail” profit margin on the product.

The power to disintermediate is the central underlying factor that defines channel conflict, and must be managed by manufacturers and distributors alike to avoid alienating traditional reseller channels.

Resellers are often responsible for a very large percentage of a manufacturer’s revenues, and this must be respected. In addition, many resellers add real value to the end customer -- thus a balanced approach is necessary.

5 key questions to ask regarding your pricing approach

  • What “retail” or resale price (the price paid by the ultimate user of your products) has the market supported over the past two to three years for your products through each resale channel?
  • What are the pricing trends in each resale channel?
  • Based on pricing history and trends, how much overall margin do you have to work with--your cost versus the ultimate resale price?
  • How does each sales channel price your products? And do they typically offer discounts on your (or their) list pricing? Do they use promotions or similar tools via Ecommerce/direct channels? If you sell thousands of products, you might approach this at a category level instead of product level to make data analysis more manageable.
  • How is the price to the end customer typically determined and managed? E.g. Are there contractual, private pricing relationships that are negotiated, or is the product bought at a published resale price, such as an MSRP from a website or catalog?

5 tactics to apply to direct-to-buyer pricing

Your pricing approach for direct selling efforts via Ecommerce can include the following tactics:

Set a clear Manufacturer’s Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) and enforce it. This is a channel-agnostic and well-documented policy that informs all channels what you regard as the pricing that is acceptable to present publicly. Note that MAP policies can be difficult to enforce legally, and need to be deployed in a channel-agnostic manner, but they are clear lines in the sand that help manufacturers and brands manage selling channels. Of course, you should honor your own MAP policy on your Ecommerce site, at least for any public-facing pricing.

Set public-facing pricing i.e. the pricing that anyone looking at your web site sees--to a level that is reflective of your other channels’ web site pricing. One of my clients does this so that no matter where current or prospective customers look on the Internet, they see the same pricing, so the buyer determines who to purchase from based on other factors, such as service, ease of purchase, and delivery time.

Consider leveraging Ecommerce functionalities to offer special pricing to specific customers (or groups of customers), only displayed behind a web site login (in essence, a private web site). For example, you can use digital tools to show MSRP pricing on the public-facing web site, but once a customer logs into their wholesale account, they are presented with customer-specific pricing levels, perhaps reflective of contracted discounts.

Moreover, if you have different customer segments using the same web site, Ecommerce tools allow you to expose price selectively based on the customer login and account type. In other words, one segment gets to see one price, while a different, unrelated segment is presented with a different price. Some B2B Ecommerce sellers I work with don’t even display pricing online until a customer logs in. The point is that there are a variety of ways to use tools to manage pricing visibility on your web site.

Consider assortment variation as another tactic that can be very effective in managing channel conflict. You might repurpose an existing product line with a different brand name or feature set, or even create a new product line just for direct selling. For example, I work with a well-established manufacturer of a wide variety of garden and home decor products. The company generates over $350 million in revenue per year, and sells its products to numerous major retailers as well as distributors. They recently started selling directly to consumers under a separate brand, but leveraging the same great products. This portion of their business, which is entirely Ecommerce and marketplace driven, has quickly grown to over $20 million in revenue, and continues to grow by 50 percent per year.

Don’t forget other tools, such as free shipping that you can use to influence the sale without impacting the price that is displayed or publicly accessible to your channels. Whatever your approach, you must understand and track pricing by channel on an ongoing basis.

A good plan will recognize and anticipate potential channel conflicts around price and address price fluctuations as you go to market. As you execute an Ecommerce strategy, you may find opportunities to be more aggressive within some customer segments or geographies, particularly in new market segments that are not addressed effectively by your traditional resellers.

The bottom line is that you need to know where and when you can be aggressive, and where and when you can’t.

Elastic Path is proud to sponsor Brian Beck’s Free Virtual Book Tour series featuring a breakdown of key concepts from the book along with real-world success stories from eCommerce leaders at Johnstone Supply, Illumina, Pella, Cardinal Health, and more. Register today

Author: Brian Beck
Posted: June 26, 2020, 7:17 pm

Augmented and virtual reality is gaining traction with brands and retailers looking to enhance buying experiences. And it’s getting easier to adopt and inject into product pages thanks to headless ecommerce APIs and progressive web applications (PWAs).

Today’s late-model mobile devices are shipping with enhanced native AR support, with toolkits like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore offering developers a way to connect AR to the storefront. And unlike early iterations of AR for ecommerce that required native app downloads, today’s experiences can be launched through mobile browsers.

While web-based AR still can only be used by shoppers with compatible hardware and operating systems, within one more upgrade cycle (~2 years) we can expect AR accessibility to hit critical mass.

For those who want a head start, adding 3D models and AR to product pages may be simpler than you think.

How Herschel Supply uses AR on product pages

The first step to AR-izing products is to leverage a 3D scanning application such as Qlone, ThreeKit or Herschel’s choice, Vertebrae. Many scanning apps allow you to create models in-house with just a smartphone (All3DP has a great review of popular options).

Because 3D scanning can be a time consuming process, consider starting with your top-selling evergreen products, and choose one master SKU variant for each (e.g. color).

The beauty of capturing 3D images is any visitor can view them when added to your image gallery without AR -- so it’s time well invested! For users with AR-compatible devices, you can display an icon or toggle to switch to AR mode.

You can use device targeting to show AR options only on compatible devices, or display it for everyone. Herschel displays the option for all Web visitors through any browser. Clicking View 3D and AR launches a QR code with instructions on device and OS requirements.

Herschel AR launch with QR codeHerschel puts 3D and AR on product pages

 

Herschel AR product page 2

Users can then “place” the selected item, which appears true to scale, and drag, rotate or view the item from any angle.

Herschel AR 3D image through camera

Check out this experience yourself on Herschel.com

Using ARKit and ARCore (and more)

Developers can use Apple’s ARKit to build experiences for newer iPhones (8 and higher), tapping into their native neural processors and AR features. (Technically, iPhone 7 also supports AR, but with slower, more battery-sucking performance).

Serving AR to iPhones through the Safari browser requires ARKit’s Quick Look extension (iOS 12), which enables 3D models to be viewed in the real-world context through a user’s camera.

How Quick Look works

To play nicely with Quick Look, your 3D-scanned images must be saved with the USDZ file format and hosted through your CDN. AR tags will only display on compatible devices and when a corresponding USDZ file exists and is detected through your CDN (and called to the storefront via page view). This ensures empty tags don’t litter your catalog.

When a user visits a product page with a corresponding USDZ file and activates AR mode, the file will be loaded into the Safari browser and rendered in a full-screen Apple AR viewer app.

For a more technical description of how to use ARKit for ecommerce, our own Senior Software Engineer Shaun Maharaj documents how our Product team built AR into product pages using Quick Look in our React.js demo store/reference application.

(Elastic Path customers: check out our documentation for ARKit Quick Look integration)

AR of product page using ARKit QuickLook

Google’s Scene Viewer

For Android, Google’s Scene Viewer is ARCore’s answer to Quick Look. The twist is you can leverage Google’s AR wrapper with both Apple’s USDZ and Android’s GLB 3D file formats with a single line of code. Users of both mobile OS can launch 3D products in their respective viewers (Quick Look or Android’s Model Viewer), or with Magic Leap headsets.

However ARCore’s framerate and accuracy is reportedly not as good as ARKit’s at this time. And while Android today has a larger install base than iOS, it’s more fragmented, and not all users are on the latest compatible OS version (Q).

Both Quick Look and Scene Viewer support sharing of AR models through SMS, email, messenger apps and chatbots.

Third-party AR viewers

Third-party tools like Vectary are also available for merchants who want to serve WebAR to both iOS and Android users though a universal viewer. Vectary’s AR features are opened in its own viewer via an iFrame you place on your product pages (enabling desktop users to play with 3D images as well).

Vectary also aims to make it easier for designers to add AR experiences without code. Its “CMS for AR” approach pushes changes from its 3D editor directly to your site.

What about WebXR?

WebAR/VR (now WebXR) APIs were conceived in the spirit of democratizing development and accessibility beyond iOS and Android, and are supported by Microsoft (including Hololens devices), Google and Firefox (desktop and mobile), Samsung Internet, Servo (desktop) and Microsoft Edge and Hololens devices. (Phew!)

The biggest challenge with WebXR is Apple’s on the fence whether they’ll support it. For that reason, we advise ecommerce developers and designers to focus efforts on ARKit, ARCore or 3P tools that play nicely with iOS.

AR viewer limitations

Quick Look, Scene Viewer and their 3P cousins work best when you want to render a single, fixed model in AR versus create custom UI environments or display multiple images (products) within the same view.

In other words, they’re:

  • Great for virtual try on of a single item, more difficult building an outfit.
  • Great for overlaying an image through a customer’s camera feature, less good for arranging multiple products in a virtual space.
  • Great for seeing a product in context, not so much for swapping colors, finishes or patterns with a single tap.

More advanced AR requires not just 3D imagery, but scaled and textured modeling, and plane and spacial recognition to display multiple products or to display them in a truly virtual environment. This is important for ecommerce, as less-than-realistic AR and VR can lead to disappointing unboxing experiences -- especially when patterns, finishes and textures are key attributes of a product.

Reality Composer and AFrame

To handle more advanced AR (and even VR), enter ARKit’s Reality Composer, a prototyping tool that allows you to build AR experiences within “virtual space.”

You may have guessed it, but yes -- Apple’s Reality Composer requires USDZ files (and .reality files) and doesn’t extend to Android, though you can build in Reality Composer and serve through a 3P viewer like Vectary to serve both platforms.

Reality Composer is also friendly to non-techies. Amir from Augmentop shares how they pulled price, customer reviews and a cart button into an AR experience in about an hour, with no coding skills.

Augmented reality on a product page with Reality Composer

Alternatively, virtual reality can be built with AFrame (leveraging WebXR), an open source, HTML-based framework. For example, the Elastic Path reference store chose this option to work natively through the Web and PWAs. (Test our sample product in a VR world here - click the “viewer” icon in the top left of the image).

Elastic Path VR Reference Store

Build AR/VR without coding

For those that want to explore AR and VR without technical skills, SaaS platforms and toolkits are available.

Why headless commerce for AR/VR

Accessibility and ease-of-adoption

The first step out of the walled garden of native apps is to choose a headless commerce platform to support a PWA front end. This enables you to leverage web-friendly AR without an app download.

Apps also don’t allow easy navigation between ecommerce pages and features like cart, checkout and browsing history, nor can app AR be accessed from any merchandising zone or product page in your catalog. While possible, it’s complicated, and the user may not have the appetite to keep switching between the app and the Web.

Choosing to deliver AR/VR through mobile browsers helps ROI. It’s critical that your new AR and VR features are available and easily accessible to as many customers as possible. Reducing cross-platform development and maintenance is another benefit.

Direct access through APIs

One of the biggest advantages of using headless commerce, and microservices (or Packaged Business Capabilities) in particular, is direct access through APIs. This helps you inject product data, prices, attributes, promotions, customer reviews and more into your AR or VR experience.

Because your commerce APIs have all the technology you need and can connect with device and toolkit APIs, there’s not much that needs to be recreated.

In-AR transactions

Today’s mobile AR viewers don’t natively support checkout and payments -- users must exit the viewer and return to the product page. But with headless commerce and APIs (and some clever development), you can support frictionless AR and VR shopping, keeping your catalog, cart and even payments within one experience.

Support “future commerce”

As toolkits evolve, expect to see more shoppable AR in-store. For example, walking through aisles and seeing prices, promotions, loyalty rewards and endless-aisle capabilities appear through your camera. Or play gamified “Pokemon Go” shopping games anywhere.

Or personalize with cross-sells and upsells appearing as customers browse a physical shop, engage with signage and outdoor advertising, or explore a virtual shopping experience through a headset or other wearable. Connected to CRM, personalization engines, location awareness and even browser history, there are many ways AR and VR will become part of the new “digital-in-store.”

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: June 23, 2020, 10:56 pm

Prior to COVID-19, analysts were bullish on AR and VR for retail and B2B commerce. Deloitte predicted 100M consumers would use AR to shop online or in-store in 2020, while Gartner claimed 46% of retailers were planning to deploy AR or VR in turn. IDC forecast retailers and manufacturers would drop $1.5B and $1.4B respectively on AR/VR experiences.

Consumers are quite receptive to AR and VR shopping (at least the surveys say) -- perferred to voice and social shopping by a landslide. Retail Perceptions found:

  • 1 in 3 shoppers already uses AR
  • 71% of consumers would shop at a store more often if they offer AR
  • 47% would prefer to use AR both in store and online
  • 40% would be willing to pay more to brands that offer AR

Is AR/VR still viable in 2020?

Despite the apparent demand from business and consumers, COVID-19 has undoubtedly thrown a monkey wrench into AR and VR investment. Even in pre-pandemic conditions, 64% of executives said lack of budget was a roadblock to adopting the technology, with lack of internal resources (55% and executive buy-in (42%) also factors.

In our current climate, “fail fast” experimental projects are a luxury many brands and retailers can’t afford.

Any investment in AR or VR in 2020-2022 requires a rock-solid business case and anticipated ROI in a time when even conventional commerce projects are put on hold or canceled.

For AR/VR projects that are greenlit, fast time-to-market and efficient use of resources is key.

The good news for brands and retailers is AR and VR no longer need greenfield investment in bespoke agency development or fancy hardware. Both iOS’ ARKit and Android’s ARCore support AR capabilities that can be baked into native and progressive web apps, and WebAR / WebVR supports cross-device experiences.

To evaluate whether investment is worth the risk, let’s explore the ways AR and VR can mitigate some of the pain brought on by the pandemic, and the available solutions.

3 ways AR/VR can help brands and merchants thrive post-coronavirus

Replace the photoshoot

New social distancing protocols, restricted travel and leaner budgets are all disrupting the traditional photoshoot.

No worries for brands and retailers, there are at least two AI and AR solutions (Zeekit and VueModel) that can close this gap. ASOS and Milaner are just two retailers using the technology, and the results are pretty mad decent.

ASOS AR AI model photoshoot

With Vue.ai’s VueModel, for example, you can use your own models or choose from Vue.ai’s roster. The tech allows you to superimpose garments on your model, choose different poses and backgrounds, and customize ethnicities and body types.

You can also upload flat product photos and VueModel’s AI will predict the size and fit and choose a model for you. The company claims its tool can shave ¾ off the cost of traditional photo shoots.

Considering live photoshoots have long been manipulated by angles, lighting, garment pinning and Photoshop, AR combined with predictive AI can offer customers a more realistic vision of a garment to boot.

The advantages of AR photoshoots go beyond staying safe during COVID-19:

💡The ability to offer model diversity and allow customers to filter by model attributes is a value-add for any merchant, giving customers an enhanced way to personalize their experience. #inclusivity

💡Images go beyond just product photos, complete looks can be styled for product pages, banner images, social content, ads, lookbooks and “shop the look” content quickly, affordably and at scale.

💡Virtual styling at scale enables greater merchandising personalization. Fashion preferences in LA, the Midwest, New York and Miami can be wildly different, for example, as can preferences by age. The ability to serve different banners to different customers based on browser and profile data can tailor relevant experiences.

💡Got a product with a low click through or sell-through rate? The problem could be the model, from their pose, to their facial expression or other variable. The ability to instantly re-shoot or even A/B test models can have a serious impact on sell-through.

Enhance try-before-you-buy

Virtual try-on is hardly a new feature. We covered one of the earliest adopters EyeBuyDirect’s Wall of Frame back in 2008.

Today there are few eyewear brands and retailers that don’t offer a similar tool. And virtual try-on has infiltrated everything from cosmetics to apparel, home furnishings to footwear -- evolving to include 360° images, 3D mesh models and interactivity for more realistic visualization.

For example, Quytech offers merchants a tool that enables customers to 3D scan their feet, body or face to virtually try on products. Competitor Vyking.io allows customers to move, even walk around in their augmented kicks.

Virtual try-on was once an online-only experience (or delivered through expensive “magic mirrors” or Oculus experiences in-store). But today’s need for low-touch, hands-off and hygienic physical retail has increased demand for self-serve AR/VR through personal mobile devices.

Today, many shoppers carry compatible (late model) devices that now support AR and VR, and can access these features through native or progressive web apps. But the challenge remains that many retailers are serving experiences that are device and even browser specific -- even through PWAs.

For example, Kendra Scott's jewelry try-on is built with Apple’s ARKit. Though served through a PWA, the feature only works in the US for newer iPhone models through the Safari browser.

Kendra Scott ARKit AR try before you buy jewelry

Are buyers ready for virtual try-on?

💡With online returns amounting to $350-$550B per year, virtual try-on pays for itself if it can increase conversion while reducing returns for “sight unseen” purchases.

💡However, it’s better to use no AR than poor AR. Virtual try-on can actually increase returns if it’s misleading or misrepresents fit or form.

💡Today, ARKit only works with late-model iPhones (7 and higher), and Android’s ARCore has similar constraints. We’re still an upgrade cycle away from critical mass adoption of AR and VR-compatible mobile devices, meaning it could be another 2 years before experiences become universally accessible.

Support social distancing in high-touch sales

Virtual experiences also have impact on B2B, including industrial manufacturing. Supporting remote demonstrations, trials and training for specialized equipment replaces the on-site sales or technician visit, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

PTC’s Vuforia Chalk is an augmented reality that enables on-site and offsite employees and brand reps to collaborate on demos, training, operations and repair. They like the tool to “Facetime with augmented reality superpowers." (To help brands and manufacturers through the COVID-19 crisis, PTC is offering Chalk free).

For example, Howden uses mixed reality (both AR and VR) to create step-by-step instructions from existing 3D machine models.

Howden mixed reality experience for B2B

Virtual experiences can also be translated to website content. B2B brands and manufacturers who both sell on and compete with Amazon are often hamstrung by the requirement to offer content parity across channels (in other words, Amazon won't let you have better content on your own site than the marketplace).

The ability to add AR/VR content such as demos and tutorials on the branded website provides a value add for new and existing customers that Amazon (and many competitors) can’t match.

These are just 3 ways you can use AR and VR to enhance digital in the “new normal” of social distancing, increased hygiene concerns and digital pre-shopping.

Next post, we’ll dig even deeper on how to use AR and VR with headless commerce. Are you subscribed?

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: June 10, 2020, 9:56 pm

Pre-COVID, 40% of shoppers said buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS or click-and-collect) was their most valued retail shopping experience, with BOPIS behavior growing 30% from 2018.

Today, curbside pickup is the BOPIS delivery model of choice (dubbed BOPAC - or "buy online pick up at curb") as we navigate this “new normal.” Both consumers and merchants have adapted fast, with curbside pickup doubling year over year and 59% of consumers polled in April saying they're likely to continue choosing curbside pickup due to the pandemic.

Among retailers not offering curbside pickup, one third say they're scrambling to offer the service as quickly as possible.

But what was designed for convenience can be anything but in today’s chaotic climate of social distancing, limited store hours and reduced staffing. Many retailers require customers to call from the parking lot (and battle the busy signal), endure lengthy in-car wait times or even queue to get into the store to flag down an associate.

What’s more, many new-to-curbside merchants are still working out the kinks in their systems and processes, and lack the back-end management that helps connect customer service with curbsiders. 

6 ways to close the curbside pickup experience gap

Support SMS

Emails can get lost, buried and worse, go unread -- while 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes of receiving them. Thanks to their visibility, convenience and speed, more than 50% of consumers prefer text communications with businesses over telephone (and supporting SMS also keeps your phone lines free for those that prefer voice).

But the best text experiences aren’t one-sided. Supporting two-way texting between customers and staffers provides the optimal experience -- even if it’s an AI-driven chatbot pushing back canned responses (40% of shoppers don’t care if it’s a bot or a human texting, and 27% can’t tell the difference).

Enhance pickup logistics

With social distancing policies still in place and lineups to get into most stores, giving customers the ability to minimize curbside lineup waits (or stay in their cars!) helps speed the pickup process. SMS messaging enables customers to notify staffers when they’ve arrived, and even remain in their cars by sending details on their location and car make and model.

For example, Object Edge’s Curbspot curbside solution provides an interface to enter this info:

curbspot order is ready push notification

Consider BOPIS-bots and GPS

To truly Uber-ify curbside pickup, consider integrating BOPIS with chatbots and GPS in your progressive web application (PWA). Customers can initiate their “trip” as they leave their home through your web app, and pickups can be right-timed with their arrival and location on the curb or in your lot.

Personalize post-purchase

Without the in-store visit, curbside orders lose the opportunity to drive additional in-store purchases -- 85% of BOPIS shoppers say they’ve bought additional items in-store during a pickup trip.

To pick up this slack, consider pushing personalized cross-sells and upsells post-online purchase to “add to” an order based on popular in-stock items at the pickup location, a customer’s local purchase history or other add-ons. In this post-purchase flow, remind customers that making fewer trips for more items is most convenient during times of social distancing, reduced store hours and more frequent stockouts.

Promote post-pickup

Another way to boost the basket value of each curbside pickup is to offer incentives to shop again. For example, Object Edge’s Curbspot supports post-pickup coupons and deals for future purchases (combined with an opportunity to send feedback on their experience).

curbside pickup post purchase order

Support store associates

Don’t forget the user experience on your back end! Giving staff a better way to manage curbside orders and co-ordinate with customers (especially when customers can’t be found or are no-shows) that’s intuitive and easy to onboard to is key to a seamless curbside experience and customer satisfaction.

curbside pickup back end interface

If you’re using a plug-and-play accelerator such as Curbspot, make sure its back end is user-friendly. If you’re building a custom curbside pickup solution, remember the features you want to provide your staff: view all pickup orders, view customer-ready orders, view orders out for pickup (or to pickup within a certain time frame), and completed pickups.

How headless commerce supports curbside pickup

API-driven headless commerce allows you to create new experiences such as adding new curbside pickup flows to cart and checkout, connect inventory and order management to chatbots and SMS messengers, and plug these pieces into progressive web applications or customized UIs for back end users and store associates -- all without adding code to your platform itself.

If you already have a BOPIS solution and want to adopt enhanced features now, you can add Curbspot to any ecommerce platform in about an hour with no coding and no cost for 30 days. Check out GetCurbspot.com for more details

For more articles on how headless commerce supports digital transformation, check out our headless commerce archive.

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: May 26, 2020, 4:48 pm

In the “new normal” of disrupted supply chains and local stores doubling as online fulfillment centers, accurate real-time data is even more critical, as is the ability to reserve stock. Shoppers have disappointing out-of-stock experiences once every three shopping trips, on average.

Traditional endless aisle helps in-store shoppers locate out-of-stock items to order online or have shipped to store, and was initially offered through stationary kiosks and tablet-toting sales associates (Endless aisle 1.0).

For retailers that have integrated omnichannel ecommerce, customers can use the online store as an endless aisle tool through their personal mobile devices (Endless aisle 2.0). A 2019 consumer survey by iVend found 93% of consumers already use their mobile devices to pre-shop before visiting a store.

Post-COVID, using a personal device is an even stronger use case. Cautious consumers are touchy about touchscreens, and huddling over a tablet is too close for comfort.

What’s more, the in-store shopping experience (for stores that are open) has become more painful. Lineups to get into the store and the risk of finding items out of stock makes the routine shopping trip a more considered activity.

Providing shoppers the ability to pre-shop at home or on a mobile device with real-time inventory availability by store location, reserve store stock (or source from nearby stores) and pick up orders safely and swiftly is the highest value investment you can make to your customer experience during this pandemic (Endless aisle 3.0).

Enhancing mobile endless aisle with PWAs

One of the most popular reasons to adopt headless commerce is to support progressive web applications. PWAs allow you to incorporate native smartphone utilities like the camera, GPS and push notifications with your ecommerce and omnichannel experience.

For example, a PWA can:

  • Help mobile users locate product pages faster by using their camera to scan barcodes, QR codes or even use image recognition
  • Provide turn-by-turn directions in-store to locate products on a digital cart or shopping list on the shelf (wayfinding)
  • Help customers locate in-stock products closest to their current location
  • Send push notifications when a customer requests a back-in-stock alert or BOPIS order is ready for pickup
  • Send push codes to unlock pickup lockers (or integrate with authentication apps like Okta)

Unlike native apps that must be developed for different operating systems and require user download, PWAs are supported across mobile browsers. PWAs also work offline (so long as your customer has connected to it online before), making in-store mobile use even easier and more accessible.

Why headless commerce for mobile endless aisle?

To optimize your PWA for these emerging and urgent use cases, you want the ability to compose applications quickly, using only the relevant commerce services you need for a given touchpoint and the logic required to support the context of the experience.

“Going headless” (decoupling your front end from your back end commerce platform) is the first step towards composable commerce. But to truly launch new experiences that connect core commerce to new touchpoints (“heads”) like PWAs, chatbots/messengers, wearables and Internet of Things, you want modular services that can be remixed fast without hardwiring or adding code to your back end system.

The importance of real-time inventory visibility

You also want your touchpoints to connect with real-time data -- especially if you use local store inventory for online fulfillment which has a double-impact on in-store stock availability.

And it’s not just your own inventory you may want to connect to. If you supplement ship-to-store and endless aisle with drop-ship suppliers, you need real-time visibility and integration with their stock status and pricing. You may even integrate with shipping carriers and rate shopping tools to determine if ship-to-store and ship-to-customer orders can be delivered on time and at a reasonable cost.

Real-time integration with the right systems (and the ability to add or remove data sources as needed) is a key benefit of headless and API-driven commerce. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: May 16, 2020, 7:27 pm

Despite the buzz around AI’s potential to make ecommerce as personal and natural as an in-store visit, fully-baked intelligent shopping assistance remains several years away.

In the interim, online retailers are embracing chatbots as a first toe-dip into conversational commerce using them to expedite customer service and provide novel ways to discover products.

According to LivePerson’s analysis of over 20 years of live chat logs, 70% of ecommerce chat inquiries can easily be handled by automation. While typical live chat is offline after business hours, chatbots are available 24/7 and reply instantly, unlike human agents who may throttle several chat threads at a time.

Today, with many call centers closed or running minimal hours due to the coronavirus crisis, live help chatbots are even more valuable to ensure customers are cared for as quickly as possible.

Online shoppers value speed-to-resolution

Fifty-six percent of online shoppers say they prefer to resolve issues through messaging apps than to email or call customer service, and 40% say they don’t care whether a chatbot or a person answers their customer service questions. Fifty-six percent of online shoppers say they prefer to resolve issues through messaging apps than call customer service.

Chatbots don’t have to have all the answers. Pre-built dialogs handle routine inquiries, with the ability to hand off to a live person or help desk when a bot is stumped. Chatbots can also collect names, email, order numbers, account preferences and marketing opt-ins and pass this data back to different databases and tools.

How online retailers are leveraging chatbots

Messenger merchandising

Beyond customer service, messenger apps like Facebook and KiK are used by a number of retailers including Lego, Sephora, ASOS, Marks and Spencer and H&M. With 67% of consumers open to shopping through a chatbot, these interactive shopping tools provide a novel way to explore online catalogs, engage with content and get personalized recommendations in a conversational context.

Messenger chatbots offer an alternative to the traditional “search-and-browse” ecommerce experience. Most support voice (through speech-to-text) and image recognition via a mobile device’s camera, such as ASOS’ Enki assistant (below). Advanced messenger chatbots support natural language processing (NLP) to infer intent and make intelligent recommendations.

ASOS enki chatbot

Image Credit: Econsultancy

Such chatbots are typically deployed with “builder” platforms like Chatfuel or ManyChat, with varying features and capabilities. Some chatbot builders support in-chat payments through Stripe integration. Others integrate with popular email and review platforms, store locators, CRM and help desks through tools like Zapier. (Check out our review of 14 chatbot solutions for ecommerce).

For remarketing, Facebook Messenger bots support automated sequencing campaigns to send promotional offers, personalized alerts and cart recovery messages through Facebook Ads. User “tagging” can be used for analytics, segmentation and remarketing strategies.

Messenger chatbots versus native assistants

American Eagle Outfitters is another retailer embracing messenger shop-bots. Through AEO’s Gift Bot, KiK and Facebook Messenger users can take a short quiz to discover gift suggestions served by the bot. Shoppers can also upload photos of clothing and shoes that fit their style and explore visually similar items.

American Eagle Facebook Messenger Chatbot

Image credit: Chatbot Guide

While both American Eagle Outfitters and its sister brand Aerie are accessible through one website and a unified cart, AEO chose to create different bots for each brand, individually deployed to both KiK and Facebook Messenger platforms.

American Eagle Outfitters chatbot

“(We) wanted to have separate chatbot experiences for each brand,” says AEO’s Chief Technology Officer, Colin Bodell, “because not every customer shops both brands or would find information from both retailers relevant.”

While this strategy keeps bots tightly focused, it also creates siloed experiences within each brand and platform. In addition, the shopping experience is restricted to what’s possible within a chat dialog. Category browse, site search, product content, reviews and shopping carts are inaccessible until a user clicks out of the messenger app and into the e-store (where all chat context is lost).

Why build a native chatbot?

While messenger chatbots are popular and integrate with platforms your customers are already using, you’re limited to the features and functionality provided by the messenger platform (which are all equally available to your competitors). Your chatbot strategy may call for support for key use cases, such as:

Keeping conversational commerce in context

Integrated with and accessible from your online store, native chatbots preserve context while keeping your website’s rich features at shoppers’ fingertips. For American Eagle Outfitters, a native bot would allow shoppers to explore both brands as seamlessly as they can on the website, or scope to their preferred brand or department. All it takes is asking bot users their preferences early in the dialog.

Unlike platform-specific bots, site-native chatbots are accessible to all site visitors and are more easily discovered through the website than chatbot directories within each messenger app.

Offering enriched capabilities and personalization

Native chatbots also enable you to integrate commerce features beyond what messenger bots support. For example, APIs can pull data from personalization and promotions engines, customer accounts, loyalty programs and order management. You can also build chat experiences that support bundles and carts, connect with a wishlist or support mobile wallets and one-touch payments.

Predictive analytics can be used to trigger proactive chat based on browsing behaviors such as slow scrolling or pauses on a product list page, excessive “pogo-sticking” navigation between pages or frequent repeat visits without a conversion. Proactive chat may also trigger from certain cart conditions like “over X items in cart,” or “over $X in cart.”

Supporting omnichannel and endless-aisle

APIs can sync chatbots with microservices such as inventory management for real-time endless-aisle. Instead of struggling through a mobile website’s search and category menus, an in-store shopper could scan a barcode or upload a picture of any product to locate additional sizes, colorways or quantities through chat. Out-of-store shoppers can use the same feature to reserve-in-store. GPS and maps can “send location” and provide turn-by-turn directions to local stores.

Protecting sensitive information and supporting secure in-chat transactions

To facilitate transactions and handle customer support inquiries with sensitive data such as passwords, chatbots require encryption and other privacy controls to comply with PCI, GDPR and PIPEDA.

While some third-party chatbot builder platforms such as Ada meet PCI DSS standards, you’re limited to the payment processor(s) supported by the platform (namely Stripe). API-driven, headless commerce and microservices give you the flexibility to natively support in-chat payments that work seamlessly with your existing digital platform and processors.

Taking conversational commerce beyond the bot

APIs and microservices extend conversational commerce beyond chatbots to the Internet of Things, in-store digital installations, smart speakers, wearable devices and more. These new “heads” can access any commerce service required, with business logic tuned to what makes most sense for every device -- even those which are fully voice-enabled and lack a screen or graphic user interface.

How headless commerce supports native chatbots

Consider your chatbot as a new touchpoint with its own business logic and interface. You want to pull data from certain commerce services (such as catalog, personalization engines, search, accounts, site content like FAQs and Shipping policies, order management, pricing, promotions or even cart and checkout) -- but use this data in a way that suits the conversational format.

If your ecommerce platform is headless, your chatbot can connect to any or all of these services through a robust API, with business logic configured and tailored to the chatbot within the API layer without changing code in the commerce platform itself. This ensures that adding a chatbot won’t interfere with your online store experience and won’t require complicated development.

If you’re using headless commerce and microservices architecture, the services within your ecommerce platform are independent of each other. This adds an additional benefit, as you can compose a chatbot experience even quicker, connecting to only the services you want (versus the entire back end if you’re using a monolithic headless platform).

To learn more about how headless commerce and microservices support native chatbots, get in touch or check out our documentation and chatbot reference experience.

 

 

 

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: May 14, 2020, 9:41 pm

We've all heard online shoppers will abandon a page that doesn’t load in “X seconds or less.” But in-store shoppers get antsy too -- physical retailers lose nearly $40 billion in potential sales each year from patrons who won’t wait longer than five minutes in a checkout line.

Note that this statistic dropped before the COVID-19 outbreak. For the stores allowed to remain open during this pandemic, queues have only become more painful, with customers facing lineups to get in and to check out.

While consumers are arguably more tolerant of slow lines under present conditions, physical distancing poses more checkout challenges. Many merchants refuse to handle reusable bags or physically touch cash and customer credit cards, interacting with customers from behind a plastic shield. Some self-checkout stations are closed off to preserve the 6-foot spread, and touchscreens pose their own threat.

Mobile self-checkout: a promising solution

With 63% of consumers already using their mobile devices to find product information and reviews in-store, supporting mobile self-checkout is a natural extension of the in-store digital experience. Pre-pandemic, 40% of consumers said they were more likely to shop at a store offering mobile self-checkout, and 63% of retailers were planning to support the ability to use a customer-owned mobile device as a point-of-sale checkout by 2022.

We can expect current behaviors to remain even once "non-essential" brick and mortar shops reopen. Conditioned by weeks to months of "new normal" retail experiences, consumers will be more conscious of social distancing and protective measures. We anticipate an even higher percentage of shoppers and retailers to embrace the concept of self-checkout through a personal device.

Mobile self-checkout is already here - with a problem...

Early adopters like Walmart, U-Haul, IKEA, 7-11 and Macy's have already launched scan-and-go applications. The problem is they're native applications requiring shoppers do download an app (friction) on iOS or Android (exclusion).

Eliminating self-checkout friction with headless commerce and PWAs

For a self-checkout solution to gain traction and make an impact on wait times and safety, it should be universally accessible to all customers with a smartphone. Building the feature into a progressive web app (PWA) enables access through any browser (and simplifies development and maintenance to boot).

Stance Socks is one of the first brands to leverage PWAs for mobile self-checkout.

How Stance uses microservices for mobile self-checkout

With Stance's mobile self-checkout solution, shoppers scan barcodes with their cameras to add items to a digital shopping bag as they fill a physical bag (colored differently from regular checkout bagging).

Integrating seamlessly with Stance’s in-store POS, Stripe payments stack and digital commerce engine, the mobile self-checkout API pulls product data, pricing and payment services into the web app to create the cart, update contents and processes payment.

Customers can pay by credit card, Apple Pay or GPay. Says Stance’s EVP of Direct-to-Consumer, Paul Zaengle:

“ApplePay and GPay are the fastest for consumers – they can easily get through a 2-3 item purchase in under a minute. A credit card takes slightly longer, as it adds 21 keystrokes, but is still pretty quick using an integration with Stripe.”

On a shopper's way out, an associate quickly scans a digital receipt displayed on the phone screen to match it to bagged goods. Each digital purchase receipt is unique and time-and-date stamped with a color-changing bar tracking the number of items to discourage theft.

Ringing in results

Zaegle reports mobile self-checkout accounts for 15% of sales daily “with minimal in-store signage and marketing so far,” and that customers who use it once typically use it again. “I know this number will increase as we get into (the) holiday season – as soon as there is a line, adoption will go up, as customers begin to see the utility and convenience of it.”

Stance’s mobile self-checkout also boasts a 91% email capture rate -- more than double the capture through its retail POS.

“I’m bullish on self-checkout. It combines the richness of a physical retail store visit with the convenience of eCommerce; it provides a sweet spot to give our guests the best experience possible. As more retailers implement solutions like this, it will become a consumer expectation.”

Rapid rollout

With microservices, extending mobile self-checkout to the physical store didn’t require a full rip-and-replace platforming project, nor did it require an overhaul of Stance’s retail POS systems. Using only a small team of developers, mobile self-checkout went live in less than seven weeks in its pilot store, with subsequent locations deploying in under two weeks per store.

Tying the threads

Data collected through mobile self-checkout connects with personalization and subscription services. This enables cross-channel behavior and purchase trends to be applied to recommendations segmented to a visitor’s geolocation, including affinities to college and sports teams, artists, influencers, designs, styles and more.

Although today many enterprise ecommerce platforms have gone headless, most stop short at decoupling the front end from the back end commerce platform. While such decoupled architecture supports CMS and DXP-led commerce, SPAs and PWAs, achieving true commerce anywhere requires modular, portable capabilities.

Rapidly roll out mobile self-checkout with microservices

Mobile self-checkout is one way to adapt the in-store experience to a mobile-first and post-pandemic world. And it's possible to get a "pocket point-of-sale" solution up and running in advance of stores reopening.

Regardless of your legacy platform, you can be self-checkout ready in as little as two weeks with Elastic Path's mobile self-checkout reference experience.

Author: Linda Bustos
Posted: May 14, 2020, 7:55 pm