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Discovering Synergies Amongst Paradoxes: Findings from The Future of Commerce 2023

Across two days, THG Ingenuity was joined on stage by thought leaders, brand owners and cutting-edge innovators to explore the dynamic landscape of commerce and unveil the transformative opportunities that lie ahead.  

This was The Future of Commerce 2023.

October 4, 2023

6 min read

Catz Thompson

The Future of Commerce 2023 event was defined by an exploration of consumer paradoxes in the current ecommerce landscape, and the solutions sought by brands to navigate evolutions in consumer demands and technology.

From seeking to retain human connection with consumers whilst capitalizing on the bourgeoning possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, to the dual desire for data privacy and personalized consumer experience, ecommerce brands today exist in a landscape defined by a need for both consolidation and innovation. 

And through all this, how can leaders of ecommerce brands ensure their organizations are set up for resilience and success in challenging times?  

Read on to learn the key takeaways from The Future of Commerce 2023. 

The future of commerce panel 

The AI era is here – what could this mean for brands?

From ChatGPT to Midjourney, it’s safe to say that 2023 has increasingly exposed consumers to the everyday impact and potential of AI.

The current realities and possibilities of technology in the AI era were explored throughout this year’s event.

In exploring what the future could hold for brands experimenting with AI and for those working with THG Ingenuity's commerce platform, THG’s Director of AI and Machine Learning, Darren Jefford, showcased how generative AI was being tested by THG-owned fashion brand, Coggles, to enable users to style looks.

An AI-fuelled extension of the ‘customers also bought’ feature consumers are accustomed to when browsing ecommerce sites, the Coggles AI trial not only suggests complementary items but also uses generative AI to create written justifications as to why each item has been selected in the chosen look encouraging an increase in average-order-value.

Coupled with the ability for users to upvote and downvote items to receive refreshed style suggestions, such a tool is demonstrative of the potential of AI to fuel the online consumer experience.

Plus, such a tool would allow brands to gather data and gain further insight into consumer buying behaviours.

Our in-person guests received a copy of our first ever ICON magazine. Showcasing work produced within THG Ingenuity’s creative division, guests were challenged to identify which images in our Icon magazine had been fuelled by AI technology and which had been shot in person.

Such a question is one consumers are set to increasingly ask as AI-fuelled content continues its journey into mainstream consumer experiences.

Think you could spot the AI imagery? Click here to read ICON.

Yet whilst the theme of AI was prevalent throughout our Main Stage and Breakout sessions, the words of Tech Futurist, Benedict Evans, penetrated through the noise: “AI is anything that doesn’t work. When it does work, it becomes software.” 

Through this lens, ecommerce brands today exist in an era of AI potential; the potential to leverage technologies to explore new content production processes, gain insights on how consumers will respond to AI-influenced experiences, and assess the role AI will play for the future of the brand.

The potential of AI technology is plain to see – the reality of how brands will harness this potential and fuel future innovations is still emerging.

To paraphrase the predictions of panellist Sonali Fenner, Managing Director of Slalom, these realities and innovations are something we hope to be talking about in The Future of Commerce 2024. 

A lady wearing snow goggles

Building human connections in an era of technological advancement

Whilst the growth and potential of AI brings with it an excitement akin to a new toy for ecommerce brands, the lingering question is: how do brands ensure AI enhances the consumer experience, but doesn’t take it over?  

76% of consumers say they’d buy from a brand they feel connected to over a competitor. So, how do brands navigate the apparent paradox of technological ambition and the growing desire for human connection between brand and consumer?

The answer lies in perception – seeing the opportunity that technological evolution provides for brands seeking a closer connection with consumers.

Here are three such ways this synergy is being explored and achieved by the brands who joined us for The Future of Commerce 2023.  

1. Omnichannel

The role of digital commerce and direct-to-consumer for many brands today sits within a far wider context of physical retail, marketplace and social commerce.

DTC is not an isolated channel and investment, but one that has the potential to fuel the success of all channels by enabling brands to connect with and understand the consumer directly.

We were joined by British fashion and homeware retailer Matalan, as well as sports, outdoor and lifestyle brand owner Pentland, in a panel discussion to explore their omnichannel journeys with THG Ingenuity so far.

The discussion explored the value and role of DTC within an omnichannel approach, whether exploring digital commerce channels for the first time or reigniting pre-existing DTC offerings.

Talking to internationalization ambitions, Penny Herriman, Pentland CMO, expressed the value of DTC in enabling brands to own the relationship with the consumer.

By owning the relationship online, brands can gain insight into the lifetime value, assess the brand desire in a market and reach new customers – all to fuel future strategies (AI-driven or otherwise) with the consumer at the center of decision-making.  

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2. Data, privacy and personalization

Whether fuelling offline or online experiences and innovations, the first-party data that DTC offers creates the opportunity for brands to take a personalized approach to connect more directly with consumers. 

During our panel on this year’s Future of Commerce report, our discussions turned to the balance of privacy and personalization. Guest panellist Paul Silton, Head of Industry at Meta, highlighted the misconception of a trade-off between privacy and personalization, instead noting that the two notions can be pursued and achieved simultaneously. 

In sharing her insights behind successful consumer targeting, Livia Wang, founder of wellness brand Access Group, stated that “'if you collect [consumers’] data and just try to sell them other products, of course they'll hate you”. Brands need to respect the data collected and show that respect by tailoring ads, recommendations, new products and more around the consumers’ genuine wants and needs.  

In doing so, brands can reach consumers effectively without overwhelming them, by using available data to create personalized experiences in both the online and offline world. 

3. Community building

Data collation and implementation can help brands connect with consumers not only on an individual level, but as a collective too. The significance of this potential for community building is only set to grow in the coming years.

By building communities through authentic messaging, personalized products and marketing, and smooth operations, brands can drive loyalty, advocacy and price insensitivity – the latter being key in an era where brands are battling cost-conscious consumerism and the need to remain profitable.

Whether taking Access Group’s approach of leveraging community-based influencers for product placement, or turning to colleagues on the shop floor to embrace their roles as brand ambassadors within an omnichannel operation, discovering and nurturing communities is set to be invaluable for the ongoing success of brands.

High performance culture and resilience

The theme of community and human connection permeated not only through brands building and retaining positive relationships with consumers, but also for organizational cultures, with a focus on how the people inside a brand, are responsible for driving it forward.

We heard from of High Performance Podcast hosts, Jake Humphreys and Damien Hughes, as well as sporting and leadership legends, Gary Neville, Callum Skinner, THG’s, and the UK’s number one CIO Jo Drake and ex-Salesforce COO-turned Executive Coach, Jose-Luiz Moura, as they took to the stage to discuss culture and resilience.  

From placing purpose at the heart of a brand that unifies employees to a common goal, to tackling the disruption AI poses to organizational culture by asking first what’s going to stay, not change, our Friday morning panels provided inspiring advice for attendees seeking to create synergies within their businesses.  

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Striking a balance between technology, operations and marketing

Organizational resilience is also being sought by brands through the set-up of their ecommerce operations. In an era of increasing costs of ecommerce, the ambition not just for growth, but for profitable growth, is more prevalent than ever.

The key to unlocking the potential for profitable growth lies in the foundations upon which a brand is built – the synergy between technology, marketing and fulfillment.

This 360 ecosystem of three fundamental disciplines, when embraced and balanced correctly, can ensure that what the consumer sees and what they experience through your brand meets their ever-growing expectations.

The future of The Future of Commerce

AI innovations, the significance of the human touch and the power of a 360 approach to commerce – it remains to be seen what the headlines of The Future of Commerce 2024 will be.

THG Ingenuity is here to enable brands to make your ambitions a reality through a complete commerce solution designed to accelerate and scale your growth.

Our fully integrated solution across technology, marketing and fulfillment solutions, has been crafted through almost 20 years of ecommerce experience delivering the global growth of some of the world’s most popular brands.  

Want to discover more? Get in touch with our teams today.

Access all sessions from The Future of Commerce 2023 here

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