From concierge commerce to visual search: Three digital trend predictions for 2021

Constantine Frantzeskos

Penso founder and chief executive officer Constantine Frantzeskos.

This time last year, futurists predicted the fragmentation of subscription services, adding emotion to AI tools, and an end to cost-cutting to usher in the era of innovation and growth.

Then COVID-19 happened, and whatever direction we thought digital trends would head, changed abruptly.

Working-from-home technology, delivery platforms and e-commerce were the clear winners as countries and businesses responded to the pandemic with stay-at-home directives. 

So, given this changed environment, what digital trends will 2021 bring?

I see personalisation as the strongest theme threading these predictions together. Here are my top three trends to watch.

Concierge commerce

Concierge commerce is a form of user-centred transformation that sees goods wrapped up in services as part of an experience.

Products will become part of a suite of services; customers will morph into clients.

This gives the seller better margins for its product, but also has many advantages for consumers, including convenience, better service and rewards for loyalty.

At the moment this is performed superficially. For example, selling finance or an extended warranty for a product.

The potential to increase brand recognition and value, however, is much greater.

Businesses can sell a set of curated products to enable services and magical customer experiences. 

In healthcare, for example, concierge medicine might take the form of an annual subscription that includes services such as health insurance and gym membership, alongside devices such as smartwatches, smart scales, a smart blood pressure monitor, smart toothbrush and other relevant items.

When personalised, this service is extremely powerful.

Medical services might include a range of pre-paid visits to the doctor, dentist, dietician, physiotherapist or other specialists for tests or preventative treatments. It may even include regular delivery of vitamins, supplements and healthy foods.

A concierge medicine retailer could then collect longitudinal data and proactively treat ailments before they become illnesses.

It’s not just for digital businesses either.

Concierge commerce is perfect for businesses that are looking to take an omnichannel approach in any industry.

Think fashion (from stylists to laundry), connected living (product updates, servicing, installation, content subscriptions), or food (liquor delivery, food and wine matching, cooking tutorials, restaurant subscriptions and more).

Consumer-centric sales experiences

While the customer has always been king, in theory, businesses are starting to see a distinct shift towards consumer behaviour dictating how they operate.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales and marketing have found favour over intermediaries and aggregators in recent years, but in 2020, even holdouts have been encouraged by the response to COVID-19 to focus on DTC for better control of the customer journey.

Even companies with a limited business case or low profits from DTC benefit from market development, product validation, data collection and ongoing service provisions.

As customer segmentation becomes more granular, more businesses will practice dynamic and personalised pricing.

There has always been pricing innovation in industries such as insurance and tourism, where companies identify people’s unique characteristics and propensity to buy and charge accordingly.

As the saying around pricing goes, there are only two idiots in the world: one that charges too much (losing the sale) and one that charges too little (losing the margin).

More industries will use technology to optimise the sweet spot on an individual level.

The delivery process will also experience premiumisation, with a more personalised touch.

We all know the idiom ‘first impressions last’, but how often does a customer receive your product from someone in a high-viz vest impatiently ringing the doorbell?

Enter concierge delivery, a cross between delivery and an onboarding experience.

Consider the premise of US startup Enjoy, founded by former Apple store leader Ron Johnson, where a team member will come to your home, install and set up a product for you. Imagine an Apple Genius Bar at the point of delivery.

Visual search

Text-based search is about to receive an upgrade to visual search.

While the likes of Google and eBay offer visual search, hardware limitations have been the biggest obstacle to good user experience.

Thanks to advances in smartphone cameras and image-based development kits, however, visual search is about to get a boost.

This technology allows customers to take a photo, identify products and potentially purchase within seconds, thanks to apps such as wine ID platform Vivino and visual search technologies such as Syte or Google Lens.

If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s that nothing is ever entirely predictable.

But with a greater focus on consumer requirements and desires building over the past year, I feel the trend towards personalisation and all that entails can be leveraged by every business in 2021, no matter what industry they’re in, or where they are in their digital user-centred transformation journey.

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