In a recent New York Times op-ed, Cass R. Sunstein (co-author of Nudge) shared some interesting insights about consumers’ tolerance for predictive shopping. His piece suggests that, though a majority of consumers would still be uncomfortable with predictive shopping, the majority was smaller than you might expect. It could signal that a predictive shopping trend could be on the not-so-distant horizon.
Predictive shopping is the idea that retailers would algorithmically determine what you want to buy and when. Then they would charge you and ship it to you, without a requirement that you intervene. It’s taking today’s common option to “auto-bill” or subscribe for goods, and going a step further. That shopping algorithm would likely use datasets like your purchase history, social graph, and demographic information to make predictions about what you want before you even know.
It sounds a little too intrusive to be realistic…right?
Predictive Shopping and the Consumer
Sunstein performed a survey to gauge how Americans would feel about such an idea. His survey showed that 41% of people would, in fact, enroll in a program that automatically them shipped books and billed them without asking. (That was his hypothetical scenario for the survey.) In other words, almost half of the respondents were on board with a program where the buyer doesn’t necessarily pick what he/she buys.
Even more surprisingly, 29% of those surveyed would still approve if the retailer signed them up with no explicit permission. Let that digest. The retailer enrolls customers in what is basically an automated subscription program, without asking first, and 29% of respondents were okay with it!
According to Sunstein:
People do care about explicit consent. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that nearly a third of Americans would approve of such a program.
This doesn’t mean impending doom for anyone who isn’t auto-selling. After all, had a solid majority of consumers approved of a predictive shopping program, retailers like Amazon would already be doing it. Still, Sunstein’s survey suggests that this potential eCommerce movement may be closer than you think.
Amazon Dabbling With Predictive Shopping?
eCommerce expert Bill Davis recently wrote about Amazon’s patent for “anticipatory package shipping” and their desire to rely more on their own logistics over shipping companies like UPS or FedEx. Amazon is beginning to use data to determine who will buy products where, so they can ship those products to the nearest Amazon distribution center. This will empower Amazon to make quicker shipments, improving the overall customer experience.
Anticipatory shipping isn’t quite predictive shopping, because it doesn’t really touch on the privacy and permission problems that to which Sunstein alludes. But, it does show just how close a massive marketplace like Amazon could be to offering such a feature. (Not to mention, it draws attention to a major benefit to selling on Amazon.)
Your Predictive Shopping Takeaways
So, what can you do today, to prepare for a future (maybe only a couple years away) where the customer expects to shop without ever shopping?
- Prepare yourself for a world where great customer experience has more to do with timeliness and accuracy than a friendly smile and a handshake.
- Start building the infrastructure now for the supply chain of the future. Bulk purchases and large inventory stocks will be replaced by intelligent, on-demand sourcing.
- Learn what builds trust with your consumers, on and offline. The consumer’s trust is required if you want to participate in a predictive shopping economy.
- Understand how to leverage marketplaces like Amazon. It will enable you to piggyback off of the trust they’ve earned with consumers, so you don’t have to build so much.
You don’t need to drop what you’re doing and start writing algorithms. Remember, less than half of the Americans surveyed were on board with predictive shopping. But, it wasn’t much less than half. To survive in a hypercompetitive market, you’ll need to anticipate possible scenarios for the future, today. Keep an eye out for a predictive shopping movement, or it may just sneak right up on you.
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