Image of Foc Laura Behrens Wu Data Technology Reinventing Customer Experience

Future of Commerce

Data and Technology are Reinventing the Shopping Experience

Laura Behrens Wu, Founder and CEO, Shippo

Commerce today knows no physical borders or boundaries. As a result, the way we shop is changing in profound ways. Technology is making it possible for virtually anyone on the planet to buy goods directly from anyone else. It’s also enabling a wave of new retailers to grow and thrive by delivering better service to customers.

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have a range of new tools and technologies to help them compete with large retailers. These tools liberate them from the costly infrastructure and logistics challenges that hampered their predecessors.

Retailers, today, have the freedom to stand out.

Today’s retailers don't have to figure out how to build an online storefront—they can just use a platform like Shopify. They don't have to figure out how to build a payments gateway—they can plug into Stripe or PayPal. They don't need to build out fraud protection tools, because third-party services are available to help them monitor operations.

Retailers can innovate constantly and focus on every detail of the customer experience—especially what unique value they can provide. Retailers, today, have the freedom to stand out because they can focus on their strengths: making good products.

As consumers, we have options

These tools and technologies are available to anyone—small innovators or huge entrenched consumer goods companies. They have enabled new competitors to pop up in every sector, giving consumers more and more choices.

Additional shopping options have steadily raised consumer expectations. Today, a high-quality product isn’t enough to stand out and get noticed, because it’s never been easier to find products elsewhere—they’re just a click away. Companies are striving to dazzle their customers with enhanced shopping experiences, fast, ultra-convenient delivery, and personalized engagement.

Today’s retailers sell you on a lifestyle, on the identity of that brand.

It’s getting personal

Fortunately, retailers now have access to granular customer data that their predecessors could only dream about. That means two customers might visit the same eCommerce site but be shown a completely different set of products. The retailer can show you what you've bought before and what you've liked online, and then serve you exactly that. The data lets them create a level of personalization that makes online shopping feel less like an online search and more like a curated shopping experience.

But perhaps the biggest game changer for retailers is social media, through which brands can have a direct conversation with customers, around the clock. In the past, retailers needed to hire a marketing agency and copywriters, or spend big on TV ads to attract customers. Today, they can just use Snapchat or Twitter to reach anyone on the internet for a fraction of the cost.

Today’s shoppers are finicky and they want options. New technology is providing an unprecedented level of agility so retailers of all sizes can meet those demands.

And while most people wouldn't follow Amazon or Walmart on Instagram, it turns out that they will follow a whole lot of other, smaller brands that are selling the same stuff. People proudly post pictures of themselves with their newly arrived shipment from popular brands like Dollar Shave Club.

Brands like that are able to serve you content in your newsfeed, where you're also looking at pictures from friends and family, because they aren't trying to sell you with every single post. Today’s retailers sell you on a lifestyle, on the identity of that brand.

Physical stores getting social

Even in the physical world, many retailers are weaving social media into the shopping experience to drive more traffic to their stores. You can find decorations and displays that are designed to be “Instagrammable,” coaxing people to post pictures of themselves in the stores.

They often use a hashtag that the store provides or location tagging, which gives the store some viral (and free) marketing.

Forward-thinking retailers recognize that today’s shoppers, particularly younger generations, don’t always go to a store just to buy things. They can easily do that online. Increasingly, it’s what happens when they get to the store that draws them inside. Shopping in the store is less transactional than it once was—it’s about the experience.

Many new stores have refreshment bars and tea lounges, which encourage people to come in and just hang out. Even if they didn’t have a specific purchase in mind, they might discover something to buy during their visit. Maybe they even bring friends to enjoy the experience.

The changes we’re seeing are far from over and shopping will continue to transform in ways we’re just starting to understand today. Armed with data, new business tools, and technology, retailers can create a memorable shopping experience—both online and in-store.

Today’s shoppers are finicky and they want options. New technology is providing an unprecedented level of agility so retailers of all sizes can meet those demands.

It’s an exciting time for entrepreneurs to explore experimental business models. And as they find new ways to go above and beyond for customers, with compelling brand experiences and higher levels of personal service, there’s never been a better time to be a shopper.

Tell Us More

What’s one piece of advice you’d give that you’d follow?
As a business, it’s important to find your one competitive advantage. For retail specifically, identify the network affect that your product(s) has. Where can you provide unique value above anyone else?

What’s something we, as an industry, aren’t talking about that we should be?
We should be more focused on how shipping affects conversion at checkout. No matter who pays for shipping, there are challenges because shipping can be costly and incredibly complicated. At the end of the day the consumer ends up paying the cost, the only question is, is it baked into the product price or broken out? Sometimes these shipping costs are going to send customers to a competitor.

What’s a product that you now buy online but thought you never would?
I bought a mattress on Casper, which I never thought I would do because mattresses are bulky and don’t lend themselves well to shipping. However, Casper invented new technology that allowed mattresses to be easily packed and shipped.

What’s a product that you don’t think you’ll ever buy online?
Toilet paper.

You’re a new addition to a crayon box. What color are you?

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Laura Behrens Wu

Founder and CEO | Shippo

Laura Behrens Wu is a co-founder and the CEO of Shippo, a shipping platform for marketplaces, warehouses, and eCommerce businesses. Laura co-founded Shippo after personally experiencing the obstacles businesses face when setting up shipping operations for her own eCommerce business. Businesses are able to instantly access multiple shipping carriers for real-time rates, shipping labels, international paperwork, package tracking, and return logistics.