A female looking down at her phone with a few shopping bags in her hand.

Contextual Commerce is the Next Evolution of E-Commerce


So as buying behavior gets more immediate, providing instant-purchase ecosystems—eliminating the clicks and navigations that dull consumer ardor—will radically reduce the time between discovery and conversion.

Shoppers want the ability to buy things at any time with just the click of a button—nothing new there—but they also want that capability while remaining in the environment or app where they discovered the product.

So as buying behavior gets more immediate, providing instant-purchase ecosystems—eliminating the clicks and navigations that dull consumer ardor—will radically reduce the time between discovery and conversion.

By mobilizing in-the-moment purchases, companies can capitalize on trends more quickly, creating faster cash flow as well as more timely insights into customer behavior.

Contextual Commerce: How We Got Here

From ‘Recommended for You’ products on Amazon to niche movie suggestions on Netflix, tailored offers and predictions infiltrate many aspects of our digital lives.

And because data-driven strategies are so robust and effective today, it’s easy to forget how anonymous and static our online experiences once were.

After all, e-commerce kicked off on desktop-only websites that allowed users to sign up anonymously (with just a screen name ID). Over time, the activity data could be linked to a person’s real identity, typically by requiring email addresses at registration.

As online browsing and buying became more common, brands slowly began to collect enough data to anticipate purchasing behavior with a high level of accuracy and make personalized recommendations—as evidenced by Target’s notoriously accurate 2012 guess that a teenage girl was pregnant based on her shopping behavior.

Today mobile devices and browsers create more opportunities for e-comm to happen ‘on the go.’ Brands invest in understanding shoppers’ activity across desktop and handheld channels, and provide holistic “cross-device” experiences that help e-comm leaders stay connected to shoppers throughout the customer journey: No fewer than 82% of smartphone users today turn to their phone to influence a purchase decision while in a store, according to Google, and 90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, such as completing a purchase.

A Shopping Experience That's All About Now

The current sophisticated measurement of cross-device activity coupled with well-targeted, data-savvy marketing tactics provides brands unparalleled insights into how a converted sale occurred over time and, potentially, across various channels or touchpoints.

This “attribution data” allows brands to understand where a customer's purchase processes begins and ends, helping answer the questions retailers must ask to adapt their strategies. It's no longer a mystery as to whether customers open an email on mobile but complete their purchases on desktop, for example. And it's possible to determine how much time lapses between engagement and conversion.

Taken together, e-comm leaders are now effectively equipped with a highly advanced toolkit for not only anticipating and mobilizing future shopping behavior, but also for tracking—and learning from—that behavior as consumers move from one touchpoint to another.

Of course, as e-commerce evolves, our idea of touchpoints shifts as well. Already, the customer journey involves new kinds of e-comm exposure and more diverse opportunities for conversions.

Social media sites—especially visual platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest—provide always-on consumers with research avenues. Facebook groups have grown into a peer-to-peer sales channel. And integrated payments options on all such platforms drive instant buys: 36% of consumers, for example, have seen a product on Facebook and purchased it without leaving the site.

To avoid over-reliance on social media, however, many marketers are also creating unique “ecosystems” around their brands: Retail apps, email lists, podcasts, and subscription boxes drive highly personal, interactive relationships with customers—sometimes even supplemented by digitally savvy, conversion-oriented physical stores.

Then there’s voice shopping. Now that Alexa and Siri are here, clickless purchases—validated by voice identifying biometrics—will likely soon be commonplace.

Reaching a Level of Always-On Conversions

The trends converge with consumers’ growing preference for shopping “in context” and buying at the exact moment of discovery. Research shows nearly 60% of consumers have now made a “contextual commerce” purchase—and that 84% of them would do it again.

For those consumers, the benefits lie in a frictionless, faster buying experience.

For brands, the benefits extend even further. In the future, every interface and interaction could conceivably serve as a sales opportunity.

Capitalizing on the contextual commerce evolution requires a different toolset than existing e-commerce strategies. To enjoy those benefits, brands will need a highly sophisticated payments infrastructure supporting their operations.

To prepare, companies should explore how well the existing digital channels enable commerce across a continuous customer journey:

  • Examine strategic placement of ‘buy now’ buttons, including in social media.
  • Check that websites are optimized to elevate new products to the homepage for instant discovery.
  • Analyze data on the click-through path from an emailed offer to the ‘confirm your order’ page to help streamline the purchase process.

Remember, the ultimate goal is keeping the cycle between engagement and purchase as short as possible.

From there, brands should enlist payments partners in an ongoing effort to shape their e-comm ecosystems into purchase-friendly interfaces.

Making everything ‘contextually commercial’ will require robust infrastructure solutions from well-equipped, forward-thinking payment service providers—many of which are still developing their product options in this area. A trusted commercial banking partner can help you strategize for success and find the scalable solution best suited to your needs.

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