Sanet Yelland
Sanet Yelland

Contextual commerce – the power of virtual breadcrumbs

by Sanet Yelland. Contextual commerce is defined as seamlessly implementing purchase opportunities into environments and everyday activities of consumers.

by Sanet Yelland. Contextual commerce is defined as seamlessly implementing purchase opportunities into environments and everyday activities of consumers. At its most effective, it’s the “catalyst to capturing that sale” or attracting the customer in the moment of discovery of a brand’s product or service on any platform.

This has become so opportunistic and a growth accelerated driver because brands and products have the opportunity to touch consumers whenever and wherever they are. Of increasing importance is the additional ability to ensure that this purchase is frictionless, seamless and tailored to shoppers’ immediate impulse environments. Leveraging innovations such as social and conversational commerce, contextual commerce enables merchants to meet shoppers at their desired, “I want it now” impulse to buy.

The simple act of browsing and engaging with social feed posts and offers has been termed as keystrokes “virtual breadcrumbs”. The buyer’s likes, needs, and interests can seamlessly integrate their buy-now value proposition where the buyer is already consuming information. But, why has this become such a buzzword? Quite simply, contextual commerce has redefined purchasing criteria’s traditional three big things how, where and when. The changing role of channels and assortments has been redefined, and purchase funnels remixed for a non-siloed experience.

That said, many retailers still think of channels as stand-alone entities. For example, they consider their physical store first, their digital store second, and social and digital media as a bubble surround ecosystem. They even think about consumer wants and shopper needs separately by channel. This is beginning to change as more retailers realise that executing well on digital ensures consumers can purchase any product they see, whenever and wherever they want.

How are our retailers optimising this?
  • Conversion capture time is key – every interaction, whether in the digital or physical world, holds the potential to drive more sales. Rather than segregating channels as separate entities, retailers focusing on contextual commerce look at the consumer’s entire daily experience and imagine his or her retail needs and wants throughout the day. The more seamless and simple a transaction, and the fewer steps needed to complete it, the more likely it is to occur.
  • Getting onto the list pre-store: A Mastercard study confirms that 68% of SA shoppers are shopping more online since the pandemic, across both essentials and experiences. Contextual commerce has changed how consumers shop, and retailers have the opportunity to proactively target the consumer shopping journey even before the stores themselves do.
  • Everyone is a potential competitor: Consumers are open to buying anywhere in their browsing and shopping journey, which means you can no longer rely on loyalty to a physical store or even a retailer. Social media and new online markets are not just about “pretty photos” – it’s about revenue waiting to be captured. This has been best demonstrated on shoppable menu recipe carts that deliver not only foodie appetite appeal, but also immediate lists to buy. Global online apparel retailers like Wish and Shein have also demonstrated the level of bidding competitiveness across online market place sites with targeted offers and competitive pricing strategies.
  • Think outside purchase models of the past: Winning retail strategies allow shoppers to buy products using non-traditional methods (voice, AR, scanning tech and even motion swipes). The first movers are already using new technologies and platforms to help consumers shop anytime and anywhere they like.
  • The basics haven’t necessarily changed: Consumers are always going to make their choices based on addressing pain points and barriers – combinations of ease, convenience, experience and price. By successfully creating seamless transactions, retailers elevate the convenience factor, in turn improving the buying experience.
So, what can we learn?
  1. The expectation gap is growing: Consumer expectations have risen, and all players in retail need to enable anytime, anywhere and contextual shopping that encompasses personalised experiences across channels. If I can shop your brand in the comfort of my home during pause areas in a day, or even while burning the midnight oil, I can change the way I consume your product and product advertising in the future. How you are seen, and shopped and consumed is for more fluid than companies may think.
  2. The role of purpose driven purchases: Today’s online consumer profile is significantly composed of Millennial’s, demanding purposeful and ethical brands with which they share the same values. Modern consumers are far more conscious of supporting businesses that create influence, and also drive a positive change. An alignment between commerce solutions and ethical goods or practices will be crucial for success in the coming decade, and establishing differentiation in choices.
  3. Tech for tech sake doesn’t cut it: For years, the tech industry and retailers have discussed how consumer behaviour and the evolving path to purchase are increasingly becoming more omnichannel. Consequently, retail marketers must consider the ways they can effectively influence consumers online while recreating the effectiveness of in-store shopper marketing tactics, as those consumers branch out to new digital channels and tactics that inspire a purchase. The role of lifestyle data, shopper drivers and other insight driven marketing communications will be critical to provide a better experience beyond just the cool tech enablement in the process to purchase.
  4. Trust in the end delivery is paramount to loyalty: When the basics matter more than ever, consumers are proving to retailers who provide convenience and speed that they have their loyalty. A contextual approach to commerce, removing friction and allowing shoppers to act on impulses, serve as an ideal response to these demands. Examples of this include social media targeting, time based commitments on orders, joint delivery service partnerships, smart device integrations and geolocation capabilities.

In conclusion, contextual commerce solutions are not an all-or-nothing approach. It’s more closely linked to a robust and agile consumer journey mapping than the actual technology and experience involved. It’s about being smart about what matters where, and finding the best way to engage consistently across channels. A key point of view on this is that “Retailers should take a hard look in the mirror and evaluate where their customers’ pain points are. Then they can strategically invest resources to adapt”.

Providing contextual commerce solutions are more about ‘fit for purpose strategies’ tailored to audience segments in their technology adoption curve. It could mean embracing a range of payment options that allow for instant purchases, or it could be shoppable grammable ads for fashion forward audiences. Additionally, better data can help retailers determine trends and solutions, like offering customers WhatsApp chatbots in messenger service apps.

Thought leader Maya Mikhailov sums the concept up well, “People welcome what you’d call life optimisation. Especially as tech is able to help us remove tasks and suggest things more intelligently.” This perhaps presents the true value and opportunity for contextual commerce – moving with the pace of life’s demands, simply made easier.


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Sanet Yelland is the CEO and founder of Streamline Advertising, a full service agency. She has worked across the industry for 30 years, on clients within financial services, wholesale, retail, FMCG and government sectors on notable brands, including Massmart, Dis-chem, SAA, City of Johannesburg, Nedbank, Absa Bank, and Pick ‘n Pay (Score Supermarkets and RiteValue brands). Yelland started the Young Community Shapers initiative in 2000. This project acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing funding, bursaries, and mentorship.

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