Next-Gen Commerce Requires Strategic Online Engagement

Brands must implement social engagement strategies that align with the mounting expectations of Millennials and Generation Z.

Many modern consumers-Millennials and Generation Z, especially-are forcing brands to redefine the traditional brand relationship as they engage with brands on their own terms through the latest social channels and technologies. But, as social commerce, mobile payments, and the sharing economy come to influence preferences and behaviors, companies must look to these new channels for strategic guidance and understanding.

Acquity Group's recent "The Next Generation of Commerce" report examines consumers' online shopping and digital engagement behaviors to establish their expectations for 2015 and beyond. The survey, which polled 2,035 respondents across the United States, explores content, purchase, and delivery preferences in an effort to identify what's missing from the current customer experience and what companies should expect in the future. Smartphones and social media will clearly play an integral role as brand relationships continue to evolve, but companies must be sure to approach emerging technologies holistically if they're to successfully implement these tools in ways that enhance customer experience.

The following statistics demonstrate which channels resonate with consumers and how these preferences will impact brand relationships in the coming years:

  • Overall, 60 percent of respondents say they see too much sponsored content from brands, which indicates that companies must focus on quality and relevance, as only 23 percent are influenced by this native advertising. However, 59 percent of consumers said they'd be more likely to watch an online streaming TV series produced by a brand over a traditional media company if it means avoiding commercials and advertisements.
  • Respondents cite Facebook as their most trusted content source, followed by print newspapers and email, but younger consumers are most likely to trust social, as college-aged consumers ages 18-22 (29 percent) and Millennials age 20-23 (32 percent) are more likely to use Facebook than Baby Boomers age 52-68 (16 percent), who prefer more traditional media channels, such as print (27 percent) and online news (20 percent).
  • College-aged consumers (63 percent) and Millennials (67 percent) are most likely to view a link shared on a friend or family member's wall, yet only 23 percent and 21 percent of the respective age groups would view similar posts by their favorite brand. However, when companies include a discount code via their social media posts, college-aged (57 percent) and Millennials (49 percent) claim they would engage with said brands.
  • Forty percent of consumers would be willing to shift their brand loyalties if the retailer in question offers enhanced payment security measures (21 percent), treats social engagement as currency (18 percent), accepts mobile payments in-store (9 percent), or allows use of digital currencies (3 percent). College-aged consumers (28 percent) and Millennials (30 percent), however, are most likely to switch brands for social currency.
  • While 58 percent of consumers allow mobile devices to use their locations, 45 percent allow only some applications to use their location. Of the 45 percent, most only enable geolocation for map (95 percent) and social media (38 percent) applications. However, 29 percent of respondents would be willing to share data with brands if it meant they'd suggest the best stores to shop for their products and 25 percent would share location data if used in combination with third-party apps to deliver products directly to them.
  • Consumers are turning to third-party delivery rather than going to the brand or retailer directly at increasing rates because they're more likely to order from companies that offer faster delivery (66 percent) or delivery transparency (87 percent). Sixty-nine percent of respondents say they've ordered products online that didn't arrive on time, which subsequently influenced 63 percent of consumers' future shopping. However, those surveyed say they'd pay a premium for faster (64 percent) or same-day (39 percent) delivery.

Key takeaway: Millennials and Generation Z now occupy much attention, for brands recognize that they must treat these emerging consumers with the concern and respect they deserve. Younger demographics will soon hold most of the buying power throughout the modern market, so brands must come to terms with and embrace emerging behaviors by implementing engagement strategies that align with mounting expectations in today's fast-paced, online world. However, it's crucial that these companies maintain their personal touch across channels in order to preserve connections and sustain consistency. Though digital engagement has the potential to create distance and diminish loyalty, those brands that focus on building trust will see long-term gains if they establish convenience and ease in accordance with consumer needs. Today's shopping experiences extend far past the traditional path to purchase, and brands that recognize and embrace this evolution will discover untapped opportunities that can take customer relationships and experiences to the next level.