Two ways you need to prepare yourself for the era of automated buying

Each day, we’re getting closer to a future where omnipresent personalized AI platforms will assist us with our lives and where the conscious act of buying will start to fade. At the beginning of each new s-curve we see ripples: signs of a certain direction that – if you really look and listen carefully – will tell you where we are heading. In this case, there are many clues. There’s the rise of contactless buying experiences: cashierless stores like Amazon Go, BingoBox, F5 Future Store, EasyGo as well as unmanned restaurants from Jingdong and JD or unmanned mini-gyms like the one of Misspao. But there’s also American wholesale retailer Boxed that is experimenting with a test group of business customers who automatically receive regular shipments of products they frequently reordered. Or there’s the Amazon Dash Replenishment Service technology that allows your printer to automatically order ink or toner before you even know your supplies are running low. Like I said, tiny, but significant ripples.

But how can your company and your brand start to prepare for the tipping point of automated buying? As you know, I already wrote about friction hunters, joining the platforms and becoming a life partner yourselfearlier but there are two other crucial steps that you’ll need to take in order to stay relevant in the era of ‘buying without buying’: show that you can be trusted, in 2 ways, and reach out for complementary partners.

Letting go of control requires trust

If you are going to send people your products automatically – could be low-engagement like coffee or shower gel but also higher-engagement like insurance contracts or holiday arrangements– and they will no longer be in control of the buying process, they will need to know that they can count on you. That’s just human nature. And that trust is actually twofold. The first part has to do with the algorithm that perceives a need and then automates the buying. If the algorithm will send a single person 5 bottles of shampoo per month or if it orders the Presidential suite at the world’s most expensive hotel for a middle-income family, trust will definitely not follow, let alone loyalty. So, it’s essential to get the data right, get the algorithm right as well as the automation. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one in charge of these processes, or a platform partner like Amazon, just get it right.

The second part is just as important, I think. I’ve come to believe that automated algorithm-based buying will lead to some sort of temptation island situation for marketeers: they will have so many possibilities to take advantage of their customers that it will become very hard for them to do the right thing. Don’t fall for that trap. Certainly not at this very pivotal moment, just before the rise of the AI s-curve. So, it’s not just about the efficiency of your algorithms, but about what you “tell” those algorithms to do. If people feel that you’re being “evil” with their data, and highly manipulative, I’m certain that they will find someone else to give them what they want.

Converge into an ecosystem

Automated buying can only work optimally if it happens in an ecosystem. For now, a lot of products and services are just too fragmented for that. The more a buying experience is fragmented or siloed, the more this will slow processes down and increase friction. The Chinese have perfectly understood that already, being masters at offering fast and frictionless experiences. Just think of Tencent’s ‘everything app’ WeChat, which is basically the operating system of Chinese society: you can use it for communication, gaming, (automatic) paying, ordering food, hailing a ride-sharing car and lots more. No surprise that Facebook is looking in that very same direction to reinvent itself into that same type of “everything” experience. For instance, it recently announced that it will launch WhatsApp mobile payments in a number countries this year.

That’s why I believe that it is smart to already start reaching out to partners to start creating your very own ecosystem. I’m not just talking about collaborating with platforms like Amazon or Alibaba, which I wrote about already, but more about for instance building your own network of adjacent players to see how you can provide your customers with your very own type of “everything” experience. If you’re a health insurer, why not for instance collaborate and converge with health fitness apps, diet experts, medical players or wellness specialists. Find out which are the gaps in the experience that you’re offering, and then try to fill those with partnerships. Because fragmentation will definitely be at your detriment when automated buying will kick in.