What role do brands play in today’s world of eCommerce?

What role do brands play in today’s world of eCommerce? Harper is the Head of Commerce for Braintree, where he oversees the technology that enables merchants to provide contextual commerce capabilities making buying and selling a seamless experience. Braintree, which was acquired by PayPal in 2013, powers payments for thousands of mobile commerce leaders including Airbnb, GitHub, and Uber.

As commerce changes to conform to the new world of marketplaces and networks, brands are losing their steam.

Historically, brand has been the primary way retailers differentiated themselves when products were very similar. Over time, customers’ habits have changed, and brand marketing is turning into product marketing now that shopping is no longer a destination game.

Think about last time you bought something. Did you go straight to the store or site of the brand you bought it from? Or did you read a review, Google the best price, spot someone on Instagram wearing it, or click on a link in an email?

We shop based on need, impulse, recommendation and convenience, and decisions we make are made way before we encounter the brand. Search, marketplaces, social networks and above all mobile has changed how, where and when we discover products. It is also changing where we buy the product as well.

There’s a clear duality. Whilst it’s obvious that for certain products, such as accessories, apparel and beauty retailing, we all shop for brands, we no longer shop atbrands in the same way we once did.

Retail is now serving consumers the best product that suits their needs, regardless of where it’s from, and the aggressive rise of marketplaces and search is eroding the authority of brand.

This means that the product, and the support afterward – as this is where aggregators and marketplaces often pass the buck – is now everything.

What retailers need to consider

Aggregation and integration are becoming the name of the game. Retailers can’t just live on their proprietary platforms and owned spaces anymore. They need to move beyond, into the experiences, aggregators, marketplaces and platforms that consumers live on. But what can these brands do to show up well in these places?

Retailers can make their retail experience something that can be seamlessly plugged in anywhere. They should seek to make the path to purchase easy, not intrusive, to ensure how their brands show up is enhancing the customer experience and making things easier for potential buyers.

The integration and service also needs to add value to the user. For example, Pinterest and Braintree have recently teamed up to offer Buyable Pins for its mobile Pinners.

In this whole new world of eCommerce, the power of brands isn’t as important as it used to be

The feature deepens the connection between merchants and consumers on the Pinterest platform and, coupled with Braintree’s payments stack, is a major step in the evolution of mobile commerce.  

This service is valuable – it makes it easier for the Pinterest users to consume content, Pin and purchase these Pins. This is value. This is convenience. This is hooking the customer in context.

However, as this new world giveth, so too does it take away. By syncing buying and payment into social experiences, digital advertising, messaging, marketplaces and third party aggregators, retail brands are losing control of the interface with customers. But the payoff is very clear.

Retail brands can now sell in places they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, where a captive customer audience already exists.

Whilst the opportunity for brand building and management is smaller, there are still ways that retailers can build loyalty and enhance customer experience.

While retailers no longer own the interface, they still have control of the ‘where’, the product, and the support afterward. Key is making sure the copy and images are high quality, as well as investing in the infrastructure for after-purchase support, like shipping, returns or product queries.

The new equality of contextual commerce

This brave new world is levelling the playing field for ecommerce. The recipe for success is accessibility.

Can consumers find and access your product? Access is levelling the playing field in a way we haven’t seen since the first online stores.

After eCommerce’s inception and its egalitarian promise of small retailers competing with huge chains, technology quickly divided online retailers into the haves and the have nots.

Gargantuan global corporations were spawned which dominated the international market. But now, the foundational technology for eCommerce is so accessible, both in terms of cost and skills, that balance is being redressed.

Technology is giving small retailers the opportunity to compete with these giants, and Braintree and PayPal have always been about empowering that long tail of small to medium sized retailers and giving them the same resources that the giants have.

For example, independent boutique online marketplace Trouva has levelled the playing field by providing the backbone of commerce infrastructure for boutiques and using Braintree to facilitate the payments, tackle fraudulent payments and increase conversion online and on mobile.

In this whole new world of eCommerce, the power of brands isn’t as important as it used to be.

Retailers need to find the right skills and partners to develop the next winning formulas that can make the retail experience something that can be seamlessly plugged in anywhere and help them increase their online presence.

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