by Dave Hanson

It still seems like science fiction, but we’re quickly approaching an era where our “smart” homes will do much of our shopping for us. Futurists predict our refrigerators will order our milk and our bathroom mirrors will automatically fill our digital shopping carts with toothpaste, hand soap and mouthwash when supplies run low, one day in the near future.

A-commerce, or automated commerce, will leverage massive amounts of IoT (internet of things) and consumer data, along with growing AI technology to make the grocery shopping experience increasingly effortless and automated in the years to come.

Of course, that begs the question, where are all of those automated orders going to come from? Companies with massive scale and robust distribution networks will have a distinct advantage. Consider the chess pieces assembled by in the past couple of years and you begin to see the road being paved for the future.

In November of 2014, Amazon launched their Echo smart speaker, which remains the top selling smart speaker in the US market as of the end of Q3 2018. With a simple “Hey Alexa,” they were able to remove the step of going to the computer and filling your cart from the ordering process.

In August of 2017, they acquired Whole Foods, a move that not only put Amazon into the grocery business but uncovered a mountain of data regarding their customers’ retail shopping patterns. Combined with and Alexa, they gained valuable perspective on what was happening with their shoppers online, at home and in the store.

And all the while, they were building more distribution centers, introducing “Amazon Lockers” for convenient pickup, hiring more drivers, pushing Subscribe & Save, and introducing conveniences like delivery tracking that shows you right where your package is on the map.

The precision with which Amazon has executed their setup for success in automated commerce is downright scary. Staying competitive with giants like this will be a massive challenge as the industry evolves, and companies that aren’t prepared to respond with a consumer-centric solution will most certainly be left behind.

So, what can we do? While nobody has all of the answers, there are certainly opportunities abound in this rapidly-evolving new era. With the Category Management and Shopper Insights Management Associations’ joint Annual Conference (CMA/SIMA) right around the corner (February 25-27 in Las Vegas, NV), we looked to some of the keynote speakers and presentation topics for insight. Here are three tips for success we think will be critical in the coming year:

Focus on the customer experience

In a September Op Ed, Retail Prophet and CMA/SIMA keynote speaker Doug Stevens pointed out a few potential areas of vulnerability for Amazon, “Amazon is purpose built to do one thing and one thing only; to deliver the largest selection of products with the greatest level of speed and convenience. The problem is that we, as human beings, don’t merely shop to acquire products. We also shop to discover new things, to socialize with friends and to entertain ourselves. We shop for the thrill of the hunt and the associated dopamine rush to our brains when we find it. Amazon seemingly has no interest in these less transactional elements.”

Ask yourself, what is the best way your organization can deliver a unique and fulfilling shopping experience that keeps customers coming back? Keep innovating and improving the way you do business to become an indispensable part of your customers’ lives.

Ask “What if?”

In a time of rapid innovation, it’s critically important to look at things in new ways. In world-renowned keynote speaker and TED Talks alum Mike Rayburn’s “What if?” presentation, he encourages people to let go of negative assumptions and start changing the questions they ask. “When you ask the question ‘What if?’ in a positive way, by definition you are opening up the possibilities,” Rayburn says. “‘What if we did that? What would it look like?’ ‘What if we could do that? How would it work?’”

Being open to new possibilities is the first step toward any kind of innovation. In a quickly evolving market, taking a little time to ask, “What if?” could lead to a critical competitive edge.

Find new ways and means to leverage your data

The folks at Amazon aren’t the only ones with data. The question is, are you getting the most out of yours?

The upcoming 2019 CMA/SIMA Conference has several planned topics to take a deep dive into data driven insights and help attendees get the most bang for their byte. Topics include: combining your data to understand what is happening in the marketplace, developing insights from your data to understand why shoppers are changing purchasing habits, generating insights from ecommerce data and more. Plus, tons of tips, tricks, roundtable discussions and breakout sessions that will help you build a competitive edge.

If you plan on attending, be sure to take note of best practices and see how you can continue to evolve and leverage your company’s data, innovate, and improve the customer experience.

We will all be facing big changes as a-commerce takes hold in the market, and it isn’t just enough to hang on for the ride. Those who succeed in the next generation of retail and grocery will need to innovate bravely and carve out their own identity in a highly competitive marketplace. In this case, only the smart survive.