Payments Leader

Shopping in the Moment with Contextual Me-commerce

July 20, 2017

Dan Peacock I Vice President of Product Strategy


Merchants should focus on shortening the cycle between engagement and purchase. The ultimate goal would be that when a customer looks at a product they want, they must have the ability to purchase it instantly. As retailers redouble their efforts to compete against the e-commerce giants, their survival may depend on using online and mobile to know who the customer is, where the consumer is currently shopping (online or in a physical store), and what the consumer wants at any given time. This requires the missing element of context. By adding context to the customer experience, merchants meet consumers where and when they are most interested in buying, with a checkout process void of friction with enough information provided so the customer feels like it was an informed buying decision. It is about facilitating transactions within a customer’s current context rather than demanding they change to the merchant’s framework.

Getting the Customer’s Attention

The internet has certainly simplified the process of acquiring customers and encouraging them to browse and buy. For example, a billboard would grab a customer’s attention, persuading them to remember the product later. In the online world, clickable ads began to speed up the process of driving consumers to the website, but there was still friction in having to search for the desired product and then enduring a lengthy checkout process. Later, more intelligent ads drove customers directly to a product page and retargeted consumers who had researched products online, to allow them to receive ads for the same or similar products. Many companies are now also using dynamic landing pages that customize the content of their landing pages to the targeted visitor and the associated offer. So, we have come a long, long way, but there’s room for further advancements.

While the vast majority of consumers research purchases online before buying, there remains a gap between researching and purchasing.

Getting Contextual – Buy it Now

Buzzwords come and go, but “contextual commerce” is here to stay. It is the paradigm-shifting idea that merchants can add purchasing opportunities into everyday activities, completely seamlessly. By embedding a frictionless shopping and buying experience into all aspects of the online environment, consumers can purchase anything, anytime, anywhere, with the click of a button – or maybe with a simple voice command. E-commerce is now an activity that happens where and whenever the user might want it to.

In its simplest form, contextual commerce is the concept behind the buy-it-now buttons that have rolled out on platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. The idea is simple: rather than redirecting to a merchant website, buy buttons can be inserted into a market place – i.e., any social media platform – to allow the instant and frictionless purchases of goods and services. Since these buttons are available on items that a friend has shared or pinned, they also come associated with an inherent sense of personal recommendation. This is interesting enough, but it’s not the game changer that contextual commerce could be.

To take it a step further, there is potential within messaging and other third-party apps, using their widespread appeal to extend their use beyond simple chatting. Facebook and WhatsApp have eagerly followed the phenomenal success of WeChat to enable a variety of experiences, including instant ticket purchases, booking and paying for taxis, restaurant reservations, airline and hotel check-ins, and even push and pull P2P payments. Exploiting the customer’s context is critical to driving commerce. The success of messaging apps to ensure this depends on getting a critical mass of retailers on board and delivering a more valuable experience inside the app. It also depends on whether enough retailers use the messaging app as their preferred channel to engage with consumers.

An increasingly common implementation is using voice activation to extend commerce into a variety of contextual applications. In the home, users can build shopping lists as products run out and order them automatically – with a frictionless payment. Users with no time to cook can simply ask for a restaurant reservation for the family at a nearby location, maybe by searching for the preferred food type or takeout. On the way into work, customers can simply order ahead for your coffee and pastry for an 8 am pickup. And all these can happen with the payment transacting behind the scenes using the user’s preferred payment mechanism embedded into an ecosystem that has moved beyond a web destination to where consumers live. This capability is as disruptive as it is innovative. And as its name implies, commerce then happens because there’s an interest and an intent to buy, along with a context that makes doing so very natural and easy.

Getting Prepared to Capitalize

Whatever ecosystem the consumer uses, the imperative is to provide the context that triggers the commerce impulse, adds value to the experience and removes friction from the payment. Buy buttons need to ensure that the consumer registers a wallet inside the app and that the enabling platform is easy for retailers to accept that payment method.

We are just at the beginning of the contextual shift. The players are leveraging their large and powerful, closed ecosystems that, with payments embedded inside of them, extend commerce into places where consumers want to go. For example, Uber users can check into their hotel room directly from a car, and even receive a digital key that allows them to bypass the front desk upon arrival. Furthermore, while on the way, the taxi app can allow passengers to check restaurants nearby and make a reservation.

The aim is to use the ecosystem to trigger commerce wrapped around context and conversation that currently happens inside of that ecosystem. By getting more commerce enablers onboard, these services will, in turn, pull more consumers inside the ecosystem and keep them there because they can get valuable services –igniting more commerce from inside the app.

Getting Virtual

We all experience our own reality. But increasingly technology can augment it by mixing elements of virtual reality to a larger and lesser extent. The digital playground of today’s social media inevitably becomes tomorrow’s virtual reality. From sharing experiences, crafting profiles and curating photos, the future will likely be full of virtual avatars. This presents a wealth of shopping opportunities for our artificially intelligent guided virtual personas. Whether augmented reality, virtual, or the more realistic concept of mixed reality, the march toward varying levels of digital immersion is unavoidable, with data and graphics overlaying what we see. Creating a seamless selling and frictionless paying experience is the key to success. That said, while excitement for the next jump in technology inspires widespread discussions on the potential utilization of virtual reality, early adopters continue to struggle with a cumbersome user experience and vital questions of overall utility.

Contextualization is Here to Stay

It’s just a matter of time before consumers participate more completely in contextual commerce, primarily because they support the ubiquitous social media platforms. Without a doubt, contextual commerce is the next logical step in e-commerce. The key to success is to make sure offerings are presented at the right time and place, and with relevant and personalized products that meet consumer’s needs.

Retailers should get closer to the context of individual shoppers, and anticipate their specific buying needs while providing easy, frictionless transactions. Merchants that embrace contextual commerce now have an unrivaled opportunity to engage consumers in a compelling and timely manner like never before – since coming to the party too late is coming last.