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Universal commerce – The new way to shop

The rapid adoption of mobile technology and rise of social media have dramatically changed consumers’ expectations for their overall buying experience. Traditional brick-and-mortar shopping is no longer enough. Today’s consumers have the ability to, and expect to be able to, move quickly and seamlessly from one shopping channel to another – whenever and wherever they want.

With nearly universal access to social media, better integration of mobile apps into everyday life and the proliferation of online promoters, such as Groupon and ShopKick, more and more consumers are using a variety of devices at various stages of the purchase journey.

From awareness-building and research, price comparing and deal searching, browsing and paying, to sharing reviews and recommendations, consumers are becoming more savvy shoppers and utilizing technology to ultimately get what they want for the price they are willing to spend. As a result, businesses are taking an integrated approach to selling that delivers a consistent customer experience across multiple channels, engaging in what's become known as universal commerce.

By the numbers

Three significant shifts in the way consumers approach the buying process have blurred the line between online and offline shopping and transformed the shopping experience.

Americans have better access to mobile technologies:

  • Internet access – 70% of US households now have home broadband, up from 33% in 2005. And an additional 10% of US households that lack broadband have access through a smartphone.2
  • Smartphones – 56% of US adults now have a smartphone,3 and up to 90% of consumers aged 25-34 are projected to have smartphones by 2016.4
  • Tablets – tablet penetration among American adults has risen from just 3% in May of 2010 to 34% in May of 2013.5

Social media and mobile apps have transformed how we absorb and share information:

  • Changing media consumption – 32% of online shoppers follow brands through social media, and Facebook alone has surpassed 1.1 billion active users.6
  • Online sharing – 46% of customers who make a purchase on their tablet read a review first, while 20% go on to share information about their experience on social media and 16% go on to write an online review of their own.6

Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable incorporating new technologies into their shopping experience:

  • 113 million Americans now use their mobile devices as shopping tools, a number expected to grow by nearly 50% by 2017. In that same timeframe, mobile buyers will increase by 64%.8
  • Total retail e-commerce volume rose from $256 billion in 2011 to $289 billion in 2012.8
  • US mobile payments are projected to grow five-fold, from $18 billion in 2013 to $90 billion in 2017.7

What can you do?

In order to thrive in the age of universal commerce, merchants must:

  • Focus on the customer. Move your focus from customer transactions to customer relationships. Factor lifetime value into pricing, loyalty programs and customer service.
  • Ensure integration and compatibility across channels. Online stores and websites should be compatible with mobile devices. It’s expected that by 2015, 40% of Internet traffic will come from smartphones, meaning businesses need to make it easy to view online stores and websites via smaller, touchscreen devices.1 Businesses can further enhance the experience by making it easy for customers to move from one channel to another, such as when customers order online and pick up in a store.
  • Keep online stores and websites up-to-date. Few things turn off today’s consumer faster than a visibly outdated website or online store. Keep things fresh with new sales and offers, and make sure promotional information and inventory are continually updated to ensure a positive customer experience and keep them coming back.
  • Get social. Connecting with customers on social media is critical to keeping your brand top of mind. Nearly half of all consumers who use social media to follow brands do so to find promotions and deals, and 50% of social media users will visit a brand’s website if presented with an attractive sale or special offer.1
  • Leverage email. Direct marketing is still an effective and efficient way to reach consumers, so don’t neglect the opportunity to expand your reach. If you don’t have a customer list, start by asking customers to provide their email addresses during the check-out process. Once you have a list, engage an email service provider to send customers updates, promotions and special offers. (Note: Be sure to follow CAN-SPAM guidelines, such as establishing an opt-out policy. The full requirements can be found at
  • Listen to what consumers are saying. Over 25% of social media users say they look for friend and expert recommendations online.¹ So, keep your ear to the ground for what customers are posting about your brand. Responding quickly to customer complaints voiced via social media networks is an effective way to protect, and even boost, your reputation.¹

These steps will give your customers – and prospective customers – new opportunities to get to know you and promote brand loyalty through all available channels, whether in-store, online, mobile or social. All sellers, from the most forward-thinking international brands to independently owned neighborhood shops, can take full advantage of universal commerce to build awareness, grow their business and keep customers coming back.

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers

2 “Home Broadband 2013,” Pew Research Center, August 26, 2013

3 Pew Research Center, reported in “Majority of Americans Own Smartphones, Pew Survey Finds,” Bank Technology News, June 7, 2013

4 “Smartphone Population Gains Users, Young and Old,” The eMarketer Daily, April 25, 2012

5 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project tracking surveys, reported in “One-Third of Americans Now Own Tablets,” Adweek, June 10, 2013

6 Forrester Research Inc. US Mobile Payments Forecast, 2013 To 2017

7 “Statistics and Facts about Online Shopping” Statistica,

8 “More Shoppers Reach for Mobile to Browse, Buy,” eMarketer Daily, January 21, 2013