Orientation for goods and services can be done anytime, anywhere. Wherever we are, we could be exploring our options: using a smartphone in-store, outside on the street or on our commutes in our cars, trains, buses or subways; or using a laptop, tablet or a smart home speaker in our kitchen. For many, the convenience of online orientation simply outweighs the friendly atmosphere of a shopping street.

“It’s all about me,” says every single consumer

Onlife consumers expect retailers to adjust to them instead of the other way around. This goes beyond semantics: it is a fundamentally different perspective. Onlife consumers absolutely hate limited opening hours, are infuriated by customer service being unreachable, and despise visiting (web) stores without the staff recognizing them.

The onlife consumer wants to be approached at the perfect time, on the perfect channel, over the perfect medium, with the perfect sales conditions, the perfect service, and last but not least: at the perfect price. N=1, remember?

Love at first retail sight

The reality of this is that I need to be seduced into starting a relationship with the retailer the very first time I visit their (web)store. The retailer needs to ask me just the right questions, at just the right time and in just the right context. It is then up to me how much information I want to share, depending on how well the salesperson manages to build rapport with me. I might be willing to start a conversation, which might move into a transaction. Maybe, just maybe, this could be the beginning of a beautiful retail relationship.

Don’t you remember me?

Repeat customers in the orientation stage of a new purchase should at least be given the option of being recognized and rewarded. Of course, this only happens based on the information they’ve (consciously or inadvertently) provided, which can then produce personal characteristics and behavioral patterns.

The upside of making a personal profile is that you get a near-perfect individual experience, brimming with added value and (price) advantages. Onlife consumers dream of stores performing a total reshuffle for their visit. They also love to be inspired, personally and directly, in the time between retail transactions. That can help them become far more inclined to keep choosing their faithful online department store, marketplace or platform whenever they start orientation for a purchase again.

Talk to me, tell me what you need

Onlife consumers can’t help telling retailers a lot about themselves. Every time they use their smartphone, tablet or similar device, their actions produce information about their wishes, emotions and preferences. Without realizing it, they are engaged in a profound conversation with the vendor based on their identity and present mood. When AI is adopted by businesses, to pick up these signals, then search results will start to reflect how we feel by translating and using all our signals. DeepMind — the AI subsidiary of Google — is working on the creation of more and more powerful algorithms that will be able to, for instance, find photos using image recognition searches.

The downside, of course, is that tech giants are going to know an awful lot about our personal lives. Some people are fearful the world will become like the one depicted in the deeply dark dystopian Netflix hit show Black Mirror. For now, the onlife consumer isn’t losing too much sleep over this.

To these consumers, this new way of shopping brings back memories of going to the town store, where you knew everybody and felt happy, safe and secure doing business. Onlife consumers just want some personal (human) attention. If all these developments are giving you the creeps, however, rest assured: Google is working on a “big red button” to halt self-learning computers and machines for when things threaten to become out of hand.

This is blog 32, based on my book ‘The end of online shopping. The future of retail in an always connected world’, published by Business Contact (Dutch/Flemish editions), Nubiz (English edition for UK and US, and Danish editions), WSCP Singapore (English edition for SE Asia), Post & Telecom Publishers Beijing (Chinese edition), Hoepli (Italian edition). The book will be published in Korean in December 2018 and is being translated in German, to be published in spring 2019. Additional translations are in preparation for 2019.