The Future Of Shopping Is All About Contextual Commerce

Buzzwords fade, but this one may have staying power.

“Contextual commerce” is the potentially game-changing idea that merchants can seamlessly implement purchase opportunities into everyday activities and natural environments. In other words, people can buy anything, anytime, anywhere, with the click of a button … or even just their voice. It’s the concept behind the buy buttons you’ve seen rolling out on platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

“We’re increasingly living in contextually relevant world, with a supercomputer in your pocket with a whole bunch of data and signals about the user,” says Aunkur Arya, SVP of Mobile for Braintree. “E-commerce should be more of an activity that happens anywhere, wherever the user might want it to happen.”

Enlisting friend networks in your shopping experience is just one of a number of new contextual commerce strategies disrupting the traditional customer-merchant relationship. We’ve partnered with Braintree to highlight the most exciting and important new implementations to give merchants and consumers everywhere a glimpse at what to expect in tomorrow’s integrated marketplace.

Your Voice Is Your Command

As online commerce picks up steam, those who don’t keep up with conversion rates and fast checkouts will be left behind very quickly. If you’re not first, you’re last.

In the online buying process, speed is king, says tech analyst Robert Enderle of the Enderle Group: “You want to shorten the cycle between engagement and purchase. Anyone that can figure out how to make it so that you look at a product, say you want it and [instantaneously] have it, will probably own the market.”

That’s just one of the reasons why developers have set laser-sights on unlocking the potential of voice-recognition technologies. Automatic speech recognition (ASR) works in tandem with natural language understanding (NLU) to allow machines to convert speech to text and then process the meaning of the captured phrases.

China-based search engine Baidu’s work with speech recognition is also leading to breakthroughs. At its research center in Silicon Valley, chief scientist Andrew Ng used deep learning — feeding large amounts of normal speech audio and background noise to Baidu’s AI — to develop Deep Speech, an ASR that is reportedly accurate 81 percent of the time in noisy environments (Apple, Microsoft and Google’s best is 65 percent accuracy). According to The Economist, one in 10 Baidu searches are conducted by voice. And that percentage could reach 50 by 2020.

Augmented, Mixed And Virtual Reality: All The World’s For Sale

If today’s digital playground is social media, tomorrow’s is virtual reality. While people now spend time crafting profiles and curating online photos, the future will be full of VR avatars and corresponding shopping opportunities.

When it comes to VR, though, that future has had a tendency to feel more like a cheesy ’90s flick (ahem, “Johnny Mnemonic”) than a serious, viable blueprint of what’s to come. But the past few years have ushered in an evolution in attitudes, as well as technology, that have retailers of all sizes excited about the e-commerce possibilities within the context of these new virtual worlds.

AR, VR and the more recently coined MR, or mixed reality, offer varying levels of digital immersion: data and graphics overlaying what you actually see in front of you represent one end of the spectrum; a completely constructed virtual world awaits on the other. Creating seamless selling experiences will be the key. We already know the big players are jumping in feet-first — Apple quietly acquired AR startup Metaio earlier this spring, while 2016 launches by Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Playstation VR (formerly known as Project Morpheus) and Microsoft’s MR HoloLens are coming soon.

In June, SapientNitro, a digital marketing agency, premiered a VR experience at the Cannes Lions Festival with the aid of Samsung Gear VR headsets and a Galaxy Note 4s. Participants were guided through the buyable wares on display at a palatial SoHo apartment created by The Line, a luxury boutique. For merchants, the benefits of such an immersive approach could be numerous, both in online spaces as well as at physical storefronts — it’s a potentially invaluable source of market research about in-store patterns, as well as a way for on-the-fence customers to road test their purchases and finally pull the trigger.

Though next year’s commercial launches of VR products largely focus on gaming and entertainment, it seems clear that with wider adoption, retail applications for the technology are forthcoming.

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There’s a lot of excitement about cutting-edge technology in voice and VR, though early adopters are still struggling with a somewhat cumbersome UX, as well as the all-important question of utility. Those in e-commerce would do well to keep that in mind, industry watchers say. “A lot of companies go with something more gimmicky,” explains Callie Leone, a global innovation strategist at Gyro, an advertising agency. “Getting past the gimmicks and finding real value in the experience that you’re selling — that’s the hurdle going forward.”

Braintree is always striving to innovate commerce experiences and make them better for both merchants and consumers. For more information on Braintree’s products and capabilities, click here.

This sponsored article is brought to you in partnership with Braintree. It was created by a dedicated Aol Partner Studio team.