What Is The Future Of Digital Commerce? 5 Rising Women Industry Leaders Speak Of What We Can Do To Enrich It

Innovation that includes harnessing data and AI is the future for all digital commerce, and we need to be agile enough to incorporate these.

Online shopping. It’s a part of daily life now, and sometimes it feels as if life were divided into before we had the convenience of online shopping and after. We cannot imagine our daily lives without it.

But do you know that it is part of a much larger kind of buying and selling that is called digital commerce or e-commerce? Today this encompasses areas from retail to construction and infrastructure to philanthropy. And it is still growing, in leaps and bounds every day. Digital commerce will be the mainstay of the future marketplace.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2024, we had an event held on 4th March 2024: Power Huddle – Drive profitable growth with digital commerce transformation, organized by Women’s Web in association with Accenture.

This comprised a talk on the Future of Digital Commerce, and a panel discussion on Innovating the Commerce Experience in which industry veterans, as well as rising (women) leaders from the Digital Commerce space, came together to share their insights on the future of digital commerce, the dramatic changes happening in the space of digital commerce, and how to stay ahead of the curve.

How digital commerce evolved in India

According to Priya Ganguli, Associate Director of Sales, e-commerce at Pepsico GBS India, the digital story of the future is really the story of the emerging market in regions like Asia, Latin America, Africa with untapped markets, with a potential for growth in the years to come.

It was the COVID years that gave digital commerce the inevitable boost that has brought it to where it is today, an indispensable way of buying and selling for almost anything. During the pandemic, most commerce went online as a necessity, and the only way has been upwards for digital commerce.

This also means that India will be a significant playground for this growth. As Priya Ganguli very succinctly says, “Right now we are among the top 3 largest online shopping markets in the world, and the fastest growing.”

Deepa Krishnan, Senior Manager, Accenture Strategy & Consulting, agrees. “When quick commerce was actually introduced, we weren’t even thinking that it was a need. And today it feels almost as if you cannot live without it.”

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How did we get here? Where are we going in the future?

Post demonetization, the Indian government pushed for digitization of commerce, and payments through the mobile became commonplace, even indispensable in some situations. The government’s digital push, the faster adoption of some of the digital payment options, and of course the low cost of the internet achieved this.

“Right now we are only at 55% in our internet penetration, but we really are poised to be at 98% in the next 4-5 years,” says Priya Ganguli giving us the numbers. “Add to that the fact that only 1/3rd of the Indian population shopped online, and you can really imagine what the future is going to be, with the increasing purchase power of the Indian consumers.”

Harnessing the power of data

Any business can sustain in the long run only if it is profitable.

Pallavi Pandey, eCommerce Strategy & Transformation Leader – International Markets Schneider Electric, puts it bluntly. “In the short term or long term ‘Profitability’ is the focal point of any business, and it’s important to constantly keep monitoring it,” she says.

How can this be achieved? Data is the answer. All aspects of digital commerce, and especially those to do with customer tastes, preferences, satisfaction, and behavior, can be tracked through analyzing data – one of the reasons why Big Data is such an important tool in the digital marketplace along with its other applications.

Deepa Krishnan says that data can also prevent inadvertent errors in servicing customers, putting customer’s needs and preferences in context. “We need to use the data we have about people’s purchasing habits to inform our SKUs and develop services etc., integrating it into a life -centric customer picture to anticipate their preferences. Use new digital technologies like Gen AI to make sense of this data and synthesize the digital DNA and have a more immersive customer experience.”

This brings us to the next point – identifying the pillars of e-commerce.

Let’s talk about the 3 pillars of digital commerce

Digital commerce as we know it, and as it will be in the future, will not stand without these three pillars, and the focus needs to be on all three to build a good, even great business, and brand.

What are these? Priya Ganguli lists them as:

  • The Consumer – whose needs have to be at the center of everything that we want to create as brands, and want to invest in
  • The Channels – there is a huge burst of channels through which you can reach the consumer and really keep that consumer engaged
  • Technology – which really brings e-commerce to life. Connection to the customer, curation of products, customization, community building, and customer service post sales.

A successful business invests in all three, and they intertwine – neither of them can really sustain the digital marketplace without the other two – and how they play out make for the brand identity and visibility.

Brand building is the name of the game

Pallavi Pandey says, “Any investment made by the brand to enable a good customer experience should be supported by its return on investment and how it adds value to the customer journey.”

This is not just the story of big digital commerce players. Brand building for digital commerce is being adopted by nearly everyone looking to sell, anything, and anywhere.

Kriti Jain, ex- Senior Manager, Strategy & Ops, Meesho, agrees. “The way the landscape is shaping,” she says, “it’s very interesting to see that some of the very small-scale companies or even individual sellers with a team of 8-10 people, are now actually thinking from a brand building perspective. And sometime in the near future, it will be quite interesting to see how these smaller brands compete with the larger brands to catch customers’ attention and how the overall market play evolves.”

The indispensable place of innovation in digital commerce

How can brands keep the customers engaged and loyal when there are so many more fish in the digital commerce sea?

The Customer is the focus around whom the whole endeavor is centered. Customer experience decides many things, and is, to a large extent, dependent on how technology is harnessed to improve it, and emerging technology like Gen AI can really up the ante.

The best thing is that small scale entrepreneurs can benefit greatly, which covers a huge section of women entrepreneurs.

Knowing your customer. Data, data, data. Comparative market studies, pilot projects, all add to this knowledge and other aspects of digital commerce. This needs constant monitoring, and is exponentially getting better as technology and our understanding of human behavior gets better.

Purchase interface. Depending on the business, this might differ. It can be a website, or businesses that operate entirely from social media handles like Instagram/ Facebook, and many more. Even individual sellers or small teams can easily get into digital commerce through these.

App based purchases make it easier for customers, even WhatsApp, and it helps if a brand can integrate a purchase option where the transaction can be done converting text or voice requests on WhatsApp into a sale. This is especially so in customer bases not as tech savvy as the average urban buyer, and can lead to better penetration.

The 10-minute delivery option. This is a mix of the pull and push of customer behavior and expectations, the B2C or B2B chain, and technology, and can get new customers or even get them to purchase online, and integrate many more local retailers. A homemaker who wants an item NOW can easily get it. You can order and get quick delivery of your favorite food even if you decide on it at the last minute.

Subscriptions. “Subscriptions are a great tool,” says Pallavi Pandey. “With subscriptions, we can really look at innovating with the help of technology, with the help of information that we can come up with, look at our current offering in the market, and as a means to maximize the life and value of the customer.”

Use of AR (augmented reality) to improve customer experience. This gives online customers choices similar to offline customers, and increases the conversion rate. If you want to buy a piece of jewelry or an outfit or a personal care item like say, lipstick, can you check online how it may look on you? If it is a decor item, won’t you love to check online how it will look and fit into your space? Of course!

As Sagrika Chehal, Management Consulting Manager, Accenture Strategy & Consulting says, “Customers respond better when you integrate AR experience in your purchase journey. As per Accenture research, industry leaders are 50% more likely to invest in AI to optimize their business processes and differentiate customer experience than others.”

Sustainability, and keeping the brand’s carbon footprint to a minimum. Creating and building a product, marketing it, selling it and delivering it to the customer, after sales service… all of this creates a carbon footprint. How small or big is yours as a brand?

This is a very important point to keep in mind, and will determine the long term viability of the brand in all ways. Some ethical businesses now issue an impact certificate for their product to their consumers, or display in an obvious place on the customer interface what this impact may be to the environment. This is going to be critical going forward.

AI is going to transform the way we are going to interact with everything in digital commerce – the ways we interact, the ways we do things, the way we deliver the talk, the way we deliver the picture super-fast. This is the future, and we should be prepared for it.

Image source: by Nattakorn Maneerat from Getty Images Pro Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Sandhya Renukamba

In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya Renukamba is fortunate to associate every day with a whole lot of smart and fabulous writers and readers. A doctor read more...

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