Technology is changing how we buy

Technology has changed how consumers buy. However, this has not been done by replacing one channel for another. Instead, technology has modified the roles played by the channels at each step of the purchasing process. This idea was explained by professor Jaime Castelló (EMBA 03/Retail Marketing 05) from the ESADE Marketing department during his masterclass “Taps, clicks & bricks. Constructing omni-channel experiences for the 21st Century Consumer”.

As well as the advent of various technological advances, such as computers, internet, e-commerce and smartphones, Jaime Castelló mentioned other emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things. “What these technologies have done is radically change the opportunities available to buy products. Therefore, I tend to see these technologies as new alternatives for buying products”. Today, instead of thinking about distribution channels, we are interested in a different element: customer experience.

When people shop, they go through a series of steps. Castelló described the steps of the purchasing process as follows: “I am aware of the need, finding, comparing, buying, receiving, using, and monitoring. What’s crucial is that we are different people. Therefore, we have different needs at different steps of the purchasing process. Essentially, we are dealing with different needs for the same buyer profile at different stages of the customer experience”.

This is where the concept of omni-channels comes into play. Omni-channels enable us to see that a different channel is needed for each step of the purchasing process. Similarly, we begin to realise that these channels differ according to the technology used in each one.

Channels in the 21st century

Traditionally, channels were essentially physical environments with people. However, nowadays we are starting to build channels using new technologies. These technologies are taps, clicks and bricks. By taps, we mean any interaction through smart devices: mobile phones, tablets and smartwatches. Clicks are interaction through a computer. And bricks are interaction that occurs in physical locations.

For example, physical shops have all but disappeared in the travel industry. Consumers mainly discover brands through online channels. However, in general, we continue to make our regular and repeated purchases in physical shops.

Taps are useful for searching for and gathering information about a product, as well as engaging with and sharing our shopping experiences. Computers are better tools for providing information and filling in forms thanks to the screen and keyboard. In addition, they tend to offer a better connection. The more complex the purchase, the more critical it is to see it displayed in a large format, hence the importance of the screen. “While mobile phones generate more traffic, most purchases are still made on computers”, explained Castelló.

And what about physical shops? “The key to physical retail is customer involvement: wanting to touch the product and using our five senses. It involves an emotional component. What a physical shop offers over a website is confidence. The shops that are successful are essentially theme parks where consumers can experience emotions and adventures”, added Castelló.

Three dimensions

Nowadays, channels are constructed in three dimensions: for a specific buyer at a particular step of the purchasing process. We have to decide which players perform certain roles and construct the technological dimension. “For each step of the purchasing process, I need a specific channel configuration offering several options. Then, I can decide which needs I am going to cover, which players are going to cover these needs, and which technologies I am going to use. 21st-century channels work by understanding the different configuration of the players, roles and technologies involved in responding to every decision made in each segment of a channel”.

Castelló highlighted the following keys to the future:

– Having an in-depth knowledge of the segments and the specific purchasing processes involved in each one

– Making connections between channels

– Keeping channels open at all times and tracking the movements of shoppers

– Developing taps towards virtual reality

– Developing shops/stores towards experience

– Building analytical skills

– Working with multi-functional teams

– Focusing on segments

– Developing technological platforms

– Preparing for change