Lucie Greene

E-commerce now envelops consumers everywhere: on mobile devices, in homes and at work as well as at the gym. And with the launch of devices such as Amazon Echo, “verbal commerce” means shoppers can interact with brands and retailers on a new level, according to Lucie Greene, worldwide director of The Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson.

Greene presented findings from the firm’s latest report, titled “Transcendent Retail.” She said digital interfaces are generating commerce — and it is driven by the experience economy. “You’re seeing soundscapes, you’re seeing augmented reality, you’re seeing virtual reality and you’re seeing holograms — all of this being used in creative ways as well, but also connecting to commerce,” Greene said.

She said that the Internet “in general is becoming something almost like osmosis, like the air around us — thanks to the rise of verbal commerce, and thanks to the Internet of Things.” Greene said as commerce and e-commerce become “almost atmospheric” opportunities emerge for retailers and brands. There are challenges too, as companies are still in the early stages of implementing the next evolutionary step of commerce — mobile. But technology isn’t waiting around for companies to catch up.

“The picture we’re seeing now is one beyond screens, beyond buttons,” Greene said. “It’s becoming increasingly intuitive and hyper-personalized and anticipatory. It is becoming invisible, at least when you don’t want it there. And it’s not the screen that’s present all the time. Augmented reality is becoming a layer that could be laid on top of your streetscape, or your home and then again disappear. You can have information, you can shop and then return to your physical environment.”

Transcendent, indeed. But the physical environment — and retail space — will remain vital, although the role of stores will be different. Stores become a place to hang out. Or a “lifestyle place” without inventory or products, she said.

Greene said “mixed-reality technologies are also being used in compelling ways to create artistic and immersive and compelling storytelling experiences as well.” She noted VR World in New York, which she described as a “virtual reality theme park” that takes up a fraction of the square footage of an actual theme park. Still, the effect creates a “whole interactive world of player games using virtual reality.”

Greene stated all of these trends are linked to the “experience culture.” There are also global changes afoot as well, she said, adding that e-commerce has more relaxed restrictions now and that “over 50 percent of consumers in the U.S. are now shopping from platforms outside of the U.S.” She said “monoliths like Alibaba and Amazon are going after markets such as Singapore, India, Mexico, so it’s becoming a global picture, and with that you’re also seeing global trends emerge.”

Regarding where consumer dollars go, Greene said it is “either experiences in terms of events, concerts, food and stuff that you can brag about on Instagram, or it is well-being, and everything around that ecosystem from attending SoulCycle classes to staying in an Equinox hotel to drinking green juice.”

“[Well-being] has become a huge source of all disposable income, and also self-improvement — from an intellectual, professional and spiritual standpoint,” Greene added.

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