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Blending Commerce and Community

by Sameer Patel | SAPinsider, Volume 17, Issue 1

January 4, 2016

Studies have shown that the majority of a customer’s buying journey occurs prior to engaging with an actual vendor. Tech-savvy customers are now turning to online communities to research products before purchasing them to ensure they have found the right match. Learn how SAP Jam Communities for SAP Hybris provides the platform for companies to now be the trusted resource and vendor for their products, effectively blending commerce and community for proactive consumer engagement while also creating loyal customers.

Traditionally there has been a clear divide between what consumers and ecommerce vendors look for in a transaction. Simply put, consumers are looking to buy and companies are looking to sell. In fact, customers typically complete 70%-90% of their buying journey prior to engaging a vendor.1 It doesn’t have to be that way.

What if you could provide prospective customers with all the information they need — not just a catalog of goods, but a comprehensive combination of expert opinion, tactical advice, user opinion, and product specifications — information that gives the full picture of a product? This is how you truly build meaningful, engaging relationships with your customers that outlast individual transactions.

And customer engagement is not just a buzzword — it identifies the importance of connecting a customer with your brand to ensure a better buying process, which means better results. One study showed that fully engaged customers represented a 23% premium over the average customer to businesses.2

The technology bringing together expert advice and user thoughts around a particular topic has existed for years: It’s the online user community. And while communities have been prevalent, they have been separate from the process of actually buying a product. According to Gartner, 70% of online communities are destined to fail.3 Why is this? Standalone consumer communities are ineffective because they don’t focus on a customer’s buying journey, they aren’t explicitly connected to outcomes, and as a result, ecommerce vendors don’t have all the needed insight to optimize their marketing investments or merchandizing strategy.

In light of the importance of customer engagement and the need for effective communities, a golden opportunity exists to combine communities with commerce, enabling customers to research products or services — and then buy them — all in one place and for ecommerce vendors to hand-hold the customer from awareness to consideration to purchase. The newly launched SAP Jam Communities for SAP Hybris — a purpose-built solution that can be integrated with SAP Hybris Commerce — helps ecommerce providers improve customer engagement for any customer journey by offering the right blend of commerce and community based on the specific needs of your product mix.

Varied Customer Journeys

Customer journeys vary significantly. First there is a distinction about the type of transaction they are undertaking. One customer may just be looking to buy a simple product, such as a phone charger. For this customer, the ecommerce retailer’s mission is simple: Provide a quick, easy method of validation, such as user ratings, and then allow the customer to get to their shopping cart quickly and painlessly so the transaction is fast.

More complex products require a different approach. Take the example of a washing machine. Most consumers are not going to scan a couple of ratings and click Buy. For a bigger purchase, diving right into ratings may increase a customer’s anxiety level and bring about uncertainty. With so many factors to consider — price, features, size, style, energy efficiency, etc. — a fast purchase is no longer important. What’s important is the right purchase.

And to make the right purchase, the consumer is going to want a different level of engagement. For a complex product, having an expert contribute a well-written blog post or participate in a Q&A session would work better. 

Then consider a consumer in the healthcare industry. Think about someone who had been treated for cancer or dealt with diabetes — they might see a product that worked (or didn’t work) for them and want to share their experiences with a community. Certainly consumers in that space don’t want to be rushed into a purchase; they want to do research, learn, and pay it forward if they beat the ailment.

As important, in the coming years with increasingly digital products, buyers aren’t going to just need to consider basic product variants like price, color, and size, but a whole array of software characteristics and functionality, making the buying journey that much more complex. Intel estimates that by 2020, over 200 billion internet and software-enabled devices will be in the market.4

 

Carsten Thoma, President of SAP’s Customer Engagement and Commerce business, said it best: “Every customer’s purchase experience is different. Today’s digitally connected customer expects that you serve them not only during a transaction but also through the entire customer journey, and on their terms. With the addition of communities available as a service on our SAP Hybris-as-a-service (YaaS) platform, SAP Hybris is now the only commerce provider that truly hand-holds the customer, from awareness to consideration to purchase and advocacy.”

This is what we mean when we talk about the varied journeys that consumers undertake, and this is the challenge we face when creating technology for the ecommerce space. But it’s also why we think communities are the solution when it comes to varied consumer journeys. For someone buying a simple item, a collection of ratings might suffice, but for those with more complicated needs, integrated communities with features such as blog posts, Q&As, and interactions with other consumers make the ecommerce page that much more engaging and compelling, keeping the customer from jumping off the page to another source and reducing the likelihood that they will shop elsewhere.

To execute on this, we built SAP Jam Communities (see Figure 1), a micro-services-based modern platform that enables you to:

  • Mix and match community and commerce as needed
  • Embed any functionality into a third-party application such as a distributor’s website
  • Derive new community insights for profitable merchandising
  • Be mobile-first
  • Commerce Needs Community

Figure 1 — The product design and philosophy of SAP Jam Communities

 

This phenomenon is only going to increase; in fact, one study predicts that by 2020, 30% of all purchases will be made through an online community.5 With the addition of community functionality of SAP Jam Communities, SAP Hybris now breaks down the walls between commerce and engagement. It lets you engage with customers on their terms and provides a comprehensive commerce solution across the customer journey — no matter what that journey entails.

1 Forrester Research, “Accelerating Revenue in a Changed Economy” (January 2013; blogs.forrester.com/lori_wizdo/13-01-23-accelerating_revenue_in_a_changed_economy). [back]

2 Gallup, “State of the American Consumer” (June 2014; www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/173942/gallup-examines-state-american-consumer.aspx). [back]

3 Gartner, “The 3x5 Approaches to Peer-to-Peer Communities for Social CRM” (February 2012; https://www.gartner.com/doc/1916816/x-approaches-peertopeer-communities-social). [back]

4 See www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/internet-of-things/infographics/guide-to-iot.html. [back]

5 IDC, “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Social Business 2016 Top 10 Predictions” (November 2015; https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=259909). [back]

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Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

Senior Vice President and General Manager
Enterprise Social Software
SAP



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