“ The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible ”
~ Arthur C. Clarke
A Brief History of Commerce
Since the dawn of times people have been trading goods and services. Starting originally as barter deeds among families and households, in time, trading evolved to an organized commercial activity between fairs, cities and countries. Through the centuries, goods and services have been exchanged for gold, silver, precious stones and later - for money.
The people who produced, manufactured and delivered goods formed a dedicated class in the society - the Merchants. They were the ones to create production, to find new markets and explore commercial opportunities.
On the other side, the majority of people, represented the Consumers who purchased the goods and services for personal use. Consumers stimulated the production and set demands to the economics, technology trends and innovation.
During the Industrial Era, with the advent of the machines, manufacturing of products began to exceed the capacity of consumption. The surplus production gave rise to the need of finding new trading routes and markets. Monetization replaced the traditional exchange and barters, transforming forever the human social existence. Merchants started setting up larger commercial Companies to establish their brands and sell products.
In continuous search to increase their profit and span, the Merchants have been developing clever strategies to engage the Consumer in a long-lasting relationship, which often features aspects like personal contact, dedicated care, and loyalty. This relationship is enabled via various commercial channels, like physical shops and personalized mails where the Merchant’s brand is presented to the Consumers, together with targeted promotions, special discounts and professional attitude.
Today, in the modern networked society, Merchants can offer their production even electronically, via virtual channels - like the online web and mobile applications. This creates new ways of promoting goods and attracting Consumers.
The electronic Commerce (e-commerce) was born out of necessity: people were already able to find product information online. The desire to possess the offered products, by buying them online, was inevitable. These demands lead to myriad opportunities in offering and acquiring products and services. The shopping experience gracefully transformed into a buying experience, where payment can be done via every possible channel. Finalizing a single transaction became merely a beginning of other personal experiences related to receiving, using and evaluating the purchased goods.
The Multi-faceted Commerce
For more than two decades the e-Commerce revolutionized the way we sell and purchase. Next to the traditional stores and points-of-sales, virtual channels multiplied and matured in time.
And yet, contrary to some beliefs, the physical store is still very much alive ! Even more: the die-hard dotcom players - whose main strategy is online retail - are now opening show-rooms and point-of-sales. People continue preferring the brick-and-mortar shops when it comes to getting “in touch” with the desired product.
Along with the physical and online shops, the Consumers get in touch with the product also via friends and family, through TV ads, printed catalogs, targeted mails, and customer services. Those interactions, at the end, influence dramatically the whole Consumer Experience - from awareness and discovery, via decision and purchase, all the way to use, appreciation and advocacy.
Through the channels, every possible way or media where a Consumer interacts with the Merchant's Brand is called a “touchpoint”. From product packaging and local stores to online pages, campaigns, brochures and social media, Consumers communicate with the Brand in a numerous ways. If the channel is a web site, than the touchpoints could be each web page, an online chat, a link to a contact person or a promotional banner. Those interactions - tiny or vast, seen or unseen, physical or virtual - represent the foundation of every Consumer relationship and together they form the overall Consumer Experience.
An individual touchpoint allows the Merchants to support the Consumer in her shopping journey. It is the Merchant who creates the touchpoints and enables them via the supported channels. However, it is the Consumer who may choose which ones to use and, therefore, determine the desired navigation between the touchpoints.
Each touchpoint has its unique presentation and purpose. It is for that very reason Companies invest largely in developing touchpoints that bring value, attract and retain Consumers.
An Omni-Channel Strategy
Current internet technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for Consumers to find, evaluate and purchase products. The modern Consumers are not shopping anymore in a linear way - they are bouncing from one touchpoint to another, getting more and more into the habit of using various ways to buy goods and receive services.
It is not a distant future where a Consumer would be able to wave her smart phone in front of a commercial vitrine, scanning a 3D hologram and getting personalized product information. She would be receiving an exclusive expert opinion about the product while being on her way to a nearby store, carefully selected by a dedicated mobile app.
Companies are in constant strive to define strategies and create the ultimate brand experience where a Consumer can purchase a product anywhere, at anytime, in any possible manner. Multichannel experience offers various ways to commit a transaction - online, via a physical store, through a Facebook link, or by using a voucher found in a post mail.
Merchants have already realized that it is not only the multitude of channels that attracts Consumers to buy. It is the combination of consistent product information across the channels and sublime buying experience, where the Consumer is at the center.
Building the “good touching” is the essence of a modern omni-channel strategy where Merchant and Consumer interplay in order to perform the very prime commerce activity - selling and buying of goods.