Since I became a digital shopper a few months ago, I have been looking at a lot of e-commerce brands, reading a lot of articles and viewing a lot of products and clothes on various sites on the Internet. What strikes me after such a short tenure, is the pure saturation of stuff I see that is available from brands on the Internet and I guess, by extension, in stores. And a lot of it is so similar! Lots of dupes. Sometimes, the only distinguishing feature is the price. What can brands do to stand out to customers and distinguish themselves from the pack of competitors eager to infringe on their turf and copy their DNA?

By all accounts, consumer behavior is changing rapidly. Compared to say twenty or thirty years ago, consumers today are, for starters, a lot better informed. They are also hungrier than ever before in history for new, interesting, cool, unique and useful things. They have become more and more demanding for more and more stuff. They get bored easily and quickly and discard things at a greater frequency and quantity than consumers have ever done in history. In parallel, the more voracious the appetite of consumers, the more pressure it puts on brands to deliver and supply a sufficient quantity and quality of products for consumers to consume as quickly as they can discard them.

This leads to brands taking short cuts, manipulating their supply chains, making promises they can’t keep and stealing ideas from their competition. The result is over-saturation in the market and a total lack of differentiation between many brands which find themselves, because of the constraints of time and resources, simply copying what is there rather than reinventing the wheel, and hoping that their reputation alone will be the thing that persuades consumers to buy their product rather than the competitors’ whose product is often identical.

The problem is that while consumer appetite seem to have no ceiling or floor, and while consumers have become more and more demanding that brands be more “authentic,” “transparent” and “sustainable” (In addition to giving them more and more stuff) brands are limited by available resources, marketing strategies, time,  and ideas from inventors of innovative technology that can be used to satisfy insatiable consumer demand. Brands are therefore in an increasingly precarious position because none of the tools that they need to meet consumer demand, which are currently at their disposal, exist in infinite quantities. To stay competitive brands almost have no choice but to start gaming the system by doing things like copying their competitors. Sometimes tbey are forced to outright lie to consumers. Take this issue of sustainability for example – the newest buzz word for brands in the industry. Indeed, many brands have been accused of giving lip service to this term “sustainability.” There is a prevailing sense that some brands are “green-washing” without really making serious efforts to provide customers with sensible options that are environmentally friendly and truly sustainable. Sure, many brands are experimenting with creating biodegradable fabrics from recycled materials, using environmentally friendly chemicals and dyes and finding sustainable sources of water and cotton, but how many are actually 100% eco friendly? And since they ALL claim to be green, being or using sustaibable products is not going to lead to differentiation. And at the end of the day, consumers are not stupid. Eventually, they will catch on when they are being played.

Going into the next decade, brands will find themselves having to invest in research and development to figure out how new-contemporary consumers make buying decisions, what these consumers’ experiences are with the brand, why these consumers really choose one brand over the other (often for buying identical and indistinguishable products) and when and where these consumers are most likely to shop.

Insofar as where they shop, it appears that new-contemporary consumers are increasingly shopping on their mobile phones. This much is already known. This is one trend that most brands probably heard by the wayside, but interestingly few brands have yet to start exploiting this trend. Meanwhile, with each passing year, the number of consumers who shop on mobile continue to augment. This means that many brands are missing opportunity when it knocks and unfortunately will be left behind.

It’s one thing to say you are e-commerce friendly and another thing to say that you are mobile friendly, aka “m-commerce friendly.” The two things are very different and in the coming decade the types of consumers who use either of these could likely be different in terms of many demographic factors, in particular, age.  For those brands that are not m-commerce friendly, in a few short years I suspect they will find themselves imploding as quickly as so many brick and mortar stores did in retail apocalypse of 2019 when several big retail companies went into bankruptcy because they had failed to evolve with their consumers.

Brands have got to get on the m-commerce wagon starting right away because where the future of shopping is concerned, it’s all about online shopping. And where online shopping is concerned, all roads are leading to mobile. Only “39 percent of customers are using their mobile phones to shop,” according to chargedretail.com which means that sixty one percent haven’t yet started to do so.  This is a real opportunity for brands who want to muscle the competition out of the way, distinguish themselves and get ahead of the pack. Brands will need to continue to innovate with apps and other technologies that will improve customer experience on mobile. They will also have to find a way to link mobile customers (and online too) to the instore experience. Brands need to get customers to actually come to their stores because (according to chargedretail.com), this is still the best way for brands to operate. That is, brick and mortar stores aren’t going anywhere despite the retail apocalypse of 2019 and the key is going to come down to how good brands are in getting customers into their stores. One way is by “enticing” them via mobile.

Some brands have already been clued into the importance of mobile and have already implemented strategies to improve this aspect of their customer’s digital experience. According to chargedretail.com, Sephora is one of those brands:

“Beauty brand Sephora is one great example. It links its mobile app to its in-store experience, using personalised in-app messaging to entice customers to book makeovers and fashion consultations in-store, and also to inform a sophisticated loyalty programme.” Chargedretail.com 

So, it sounds like brands are going to have to figure out how to use mobile technology to exploit customers’ desire to explore more in store experiences. That is to say, it’s a kind of circular journey in the sense that m-commerce should be leading the customers back to the store, which leads them to online shopping, which ultimate leads them back to mobile shopping, and back again.  Chargedretail.com added: “In 2020, I expect retailers will put great effort into mapping the full customer journey, uniting digital and physical activities to understand what new services they can provide to entice people in-store, and what digital tactics they can deploy to activate them.”

With only 39 percent of customers shopping on mobile, brands on the cutting edge will be in a position to distinguish themselves, gain traction, enjoy a competitive advantage and even dominate in their industry if they start now to innovate and develop the right technologies in the area of m-commerce.  These technologies have to aim at providing consumers with a 3-D experience on mobile. Consumers should be able to use face, voice and vision technologies to interact with and physically experience products in store from their mobile phones without having to enter into a physical store unless they want to. They should be able to be teleported  to any physical store in a virtual sense from their mobile no matter where they are geo-located at any given time. They also should be able to interact in real time with sales personnel via mobile technologies – a digital virtual personal stylist or personal shopper, if you will –  as if they were physically present in store. The best mobile technologies will give consumers the feeling that all their five senses are activated when making purchasing decisions on their mobile phones and this will lead them in greater numbers to actually finalize purchases because of this activation of their senses.

The distinction between digital and reality should almost become extinct for consumers using m-commerce platforms. Brands which are able to provide these types of experiences to customers will be the ones to win the differentiation game and vanquish the competition in the decade ahead.

Brands will also have to think about creating specific products for specific events. For example, one brand, Pretty Young Thing, a UK based fast fashion brand owned by Boohoo Group, has a collection of clothing called “Airport Outfits.” By marrying fashion and travel in this specific way, the company is one of the first to identify certain specific looks for a specific place that has not been historically identified as “a thing” for apparel retailers. Creating outfits for specific outings such as going to the airport, supermarket or community swimming pool might be a way that brands are able to carve out new identities and new supply chains. The idea is to personalize their products to the consumer’s life in such a way that it facilitates the consumer’s life, becomes seamlessly integrated into the consumer’s lives, really fills it up even more and gives the consumer more ideas for how to expand their existence to a greater degree – all from their mobile phone.

For brands differentiation will come down to being the first to provide consumers with full sensory m-commerce experiences in 3D.