Frictionless Commerce Research Report

Frictionless Ecommerce Research Report

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By Professor Ian Ryder


The last few years has seen lots of change in our daily lives, much of it driven by technology.

Buying just about anything, from washing powder to holidays, is but a “click” away for anyone who has access to a “device” – PC, laptop, phone, tablet or even your TV.

The weekly shop, the annual holiday, train tickets, car hire, a boiler service, gym class or cinema ticket – BUT….how easy is it? How reliable? How secure?

The majority of us are involved in some way in providing goods and services. And we are all, one way or another, consumers / customers.

The Worshipful Company of Marketors (WCoM) has undertaken a research “snapshot” of what is called Frictionless Commerce, interviewing key executives from the worlds of major tech, big charities, financial services and telcos.

The way they defined it was, not too surprisingly, quite similar:

  • “a seamless interaction with customers, in any channel, in order that they can acquire and use our services and products easily.”
  • “The Domino’s Pizza App!”
  • How we engage with our customers and take down barriers to trade – it’s how we retain competitive advantage for our brand.”
  • “Amazon 1-click” – more than one respondent used this example
  • “…as near real-time as possible….as few touch points as possible…as much intelligence as possible.”

We then asked what exactly are the “new” technologies in marketing? A couple of important points came out from several respondents:

  • “tech is an enabler and must be seen that way – you need to understand what you are going to do with it before you get it.”
  • “what is new in one environment may be seen as old in another. E.g. Salesforce could be several generations old in one organisation, but a brand new deployment in another. It depends on the life-cycle of tech within each organisation”
  •  “a speech recognition and analytics tool helps us deal with many of the stressed and distressed people who call us. In this case it is used to help us determine how tense, worried, or even truthful, the caller may be.”

Not surprisingly, everyone mentioned the generics of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and  Virtual Reality, although the understanding of what these are was varied.

CRM and Big Data Analytics were also a common theme and other memorable, and important points were made:

  • “we are coming up with a Tech Road Map – marketing needs a road map of technology capability in order to underpin deliverables”
  • “tech spans industries which means one good idea in one area could translate into others – a predictive platform for marketing to improve customer service would be fabulous!!”
  • “I don’t think AI is there yet, but Data Security is becoming very big – and led by the CIO. The CIO naturally wants to restrict our systems that collect and hold data (GDPR a major pain!!) whereas the CMO wants the exact opposite! An area of major conflict and regulation is right in the middle of it!”
  • “Social Media is actually used extensively in some environments”
  • “Cyber Security in its broadest sense. For example the provision of secure communications throughout the supply chain….Blockchain makes an appearance here.”

There was an interesting point made that there is actually some differentiation to be had by telling customers that you DON’T use robots!

The ethics of technology use was highlighted by one very large global business. Two excellent examples of how it can go horribly wrong include:

  1. A major tech company which deployed an AI solution that managed one part of their customer service platform. However, because of the way the profiles were built the system taught itself how to become “racist”.
  2. Then there was the company which used AI to filter and sift cv’s, which it did against the profile of past hiring selections. The system decided that young, white males were the model and so consequently every Application outside that demographic was rejected!

When questioned about customer reactions / involvement, the range was wide:

  • “we are seen as much more transparent now.”
  • “the customer doesn’t care! It’s all about their user experience.”
  • “positive overall, but we take too long to respond. Customer expectations are unrealistic BUT our response is insufficient. We are improving, but nowhere near those unachievable expectations!”

Measurement of brand impact and reputational markers. Some large organisations don’t actually do much more than manage within the rules set out from a distant corporate HQ.

  • “It’s difficult. We’re not expected to define what’s already done, just not to mess it up!”

Strategy was the last area of discussion. Is this set first and then tech deployed to achieve it, or is tech acquired and therefore drives the strategy? Unanimous agreement here – Strategy comes first every time. There were a couple of additional caveats though:

  • “Strategy first although it may change with some of the newer tech like AR….”
  • “ Strategy first, and actually strategy can kick start research to develop new technologies.”


Frictionless Commerce is a goal of many but a true reality for few. Amazon and Domino’s Pizza seem to come closest!

Organisations we might expect to make things easy or seamless, like banks and telcos, are not even close. Some that would seem to be “ripe” for it to ensure huge customer loyalty and retention, like airlines and holiday companies, again not close.

Even paragons like John Lewis in the retail world, who were not a part of this snapshot, have seemingly badly slipped from their previous position as an almost perfect experience.

One thing is for sure – Technology is here to stay. Claims will be made about its capability which may well be factually correct, but the utility for you and me in our daily lives is still not there.

Marketing, and the CMO, will be working in close tandem with technology and the CIO going forward, but each needs to understand their own skills / contribution well enough to “blend” the perfect customer meal without trying to win any corporate turf wars. The only person important to us all in any of this, is the Customer.

I will finish with two wonderful, and very insightful quotes from our contributors:

  • “Tech is there to organise and structure the data, but it doesn’t get round the fact that you (CMO) need to make decisions based on sound marketing principles. Tools are always there to fundamentally support marketing – they give no answers, but they help us to find them.!”
  • “ Brand – Quality of product / service – People: the top 3 things customers always tell us as the reasons they buy – and you never see them on any of the marketing programmes!!”

Implications for the CMO

  1. Don’t be swayed from keeping focus on the customer, the messaging and the service delivery, these are your differentiation – the tech is a tool to assist, and available to ALL.
  2. Establish a good rapport with your CIO / CTO.
  3. Be prepared to educate your technical team in the basics of your task so they can understand how best to help, and enable them to use their creativity within their own expertise.
  4. Ask to be educated yourself! You need to understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology, and also what new, viable technologies are on the way which may help.
  5. Don’t be a Luddite over technology – but remember the customer has a choice, and it is highly improbable that marketing technology deployment will make a real difference to their final decision.

CORE message: Customers will still always need the messaging to be right, and the product / service to deliver – the deployed technologies they couldn’t care less about!

Professor Ian Ryder, Deputy Chair

January 2019


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