The world’s leading brands understand the huge opportunities and inherent dangers of tomorrow’s super-connected customer worlds, which is why they’re working so hard today to ensure that they own—and can defend—their place within them.
It’s been 10 years since the arrival of the iPhone. Since then, millions of families across the world have bought into Apple’s connected hardware and software ecosystem. Millions more have chosen Google’s products and services, and the recent arrival of Amazon Alexa has brought another digital giant into our homes.
At the same time, major high street brands such as Starbucks, Topshop, and Macy’s are experimenting with connected automotive and retail experiences. Customers already expect seamless engagement across digital devices—very soon they’ll expect it as they move between the interconnected environments of their homes, cars, offices, and retail spaces. As these zones become better integrated, truly connected customer worlds will emerge.
Voice Is Catalysing Customer Control
Sales of voice-first devices are expected to more than triple in 2017 to 33 million units, confirming the significance of voice as a catalyst for connected customer worlds. The speed and convenience of voice UIs give customers new powers to connect both environments and an expanding range of smart devices.
All of this has the potential to be controlled by customers using freely available, non-technical automation tools, such as IFTTT and Zapier. These are open-source platforms that support a growing market of automation applets, which can be created in minutes by customers and deployed to the community, as they can be by brands (e.g. BMW’s “A warm welcome home”). And these tools are being used. IFTTT claims to run 1 billion automated tasks every month, and a recent study by Engine (the parent agency of Partners Andrews Aldridge) involving 50 owners of Alexa devices revealed that 50% were creating their own IFTTT functions.
Connected Environments Outside The Home
While there are many examples of these lightweight applets connecting homes and cars, the more powerful integrations are those being hard-coded by brands.
Ford is one example. Its Fusion and F-150 models have Alexa built into the dashboard, enabling drivers to use a range of voice control commands. From the comfort of their homes, users can control the engine, lock doors, and check the battery charge and vehicle range of electric vehicles.
While on the road, drivers can play audio via Alexa, and will soon be able to order coffee and pay for it seamlessly thanks to a partnership with Starbucks and its focus on “conversational commerce”. Once they return home, customers can activate smart devices in their houses from inside the car. Commands that bridge the home/car divide could be thanks to a incredibly helpful—such as “Alexa, is my garage door closed?” and “Alexa, turn my porch lights on.”
Missed Opportunities—Office And Retail Spaces
Given all the tech and networking present in modern office environments, and how long we all spend in them, it’s disappointing that more aren’t properly connected. One recent and notable exception is the Hudson Yards space designed by architects Foster + Partners for creative agency R/GA. The environment has been designed so the digital landscape integrates with physical space, including a geolocation service that helps with wayfinding and an app for booking and controlling meeting spaces.
However, the greatest lack of customer connectivity is evident in retail spaces—which is surprising given the challenges facing this sector. Since the 2008 global recession, 23 major U.K. high street brands have collapsed, largely due to changing customer behaviours that Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson describes as having a “devastating” impact on footfall. Its plan to address this danger is to create “hyper-connected” coffee shops, personalised for each customer.
Costa and Dunkin’ Donuts are two brands that are connecting car and retail spaces. They are working with specialist driving app Waze to encourage customers to visit physical stores at opportune moments of customer engagement.
Taking It To The Next Level
With the success of the Alexa voice service and positive early data from sales of Echo Show (Amazon’s first voice device to feature a screen), Amazon is leading the connected home charge. And with this year’s two-phased automotive integration, it is connecting homes and cars. The digital relationship that’s growing between these two environments allows data to be shared—helping tailor customer experiences in each.
Once Amazon starts building more checkout-free “Go” stores, it will integrate these retail spaces and sit across super-connected customer worlds. And while few organisations have the infrastructure and digital credentials of Amazon, all brands need to be thinking about how to own and defend their place within this new world.