The inclusive shopping marketplace may just be the biggest untapped opportunity in the world of e-commerce today.
by an estimate, totals a staggering $8 trillion. It’s also not as fragmented as you might think. For example, more than 2.2 billion people experience visual impairments, while almost half a billion have hearing loss.
As a result, brands need to start seeing this as an opportunity rather than a box to mark their path to social responsibility. The problem is that the various organizations that set accessibility standards, such as W3Cthey may be well-meaning, but their guidelines are minimal and often unimaginative.
For example, most of them ask for tags to describe images. But no tag is going to tell a blind buyer if a scarf would look good on him. Brands can solve this problem – and I will get to that – but not through any metadata strategy.
Inclusive design, the kind that meets people where they are, requires innovation, not standards. It was the unexpected impetus for some of the most used inventions in the world, including email, touch screens and even typewriters. Innovation and inclusive designs have long surpassed regulators’ imaginations and brought benefits to people far beyond the target audience.
Today, we can see something similar developing with live trading, although it has not yet been fully leveraged for this purpose. Like many powerful ideas, live trading is simple at its core: an interface that quickly connects a digital shopper with a live agent. Brands are using it today to a limited extent to demonstrate products, answer questions, and provide alternative options, much like a store assistant might do in a physical store.
Innovation and inclusive designs have long surpassed regulators’ imaginations and brought benefits to people far beyond the target audience.
While not necessarily an all-inclusive solution, if live commerce is combined with other off-the-shelf technologies it can become a very powerful platform for innovation. To understand why, let me look at several scenarios that go far beyond current accessibility standards. In doing so, I will show why solving for the widest possible range of skills tends to create unintended benefits for everyone.
Most people today are familiar with live subtitles thanks to YouTube, which automatically translates any voice into text. Together with a live agent, you can create an experience where anyone, regardless of hearing ability, can easily communicate with an experienced agent.
Interestingly, when my company tested this technology in Moscow, a much broader use case evolved. Subways and other environments have been found to be quite noisy and voice communication becomes difficult. People found they could use subtitles during their commute to overcome this.
The broader applications of such technology are clear: whether shopping or not, having the option of closed captioning can certainly facilitate communication in many noisy situations or where people don’t want to be heard.
Inclusive shopping experiences
One of the challenges in approaching the inclusive community is that it is so diverse. For example, my firm currently works with 16 different advocacy organizations, each representing people with specific challenges. While live commerce cannot solve all of these problems on its own, humans are far more flexible and adaptable than any technological solution we’ve ever come up with.
For example, some people may need larger images to see them better. Others may need the agent to speak up, slow down when speaking, or give specific advice for their skills. Unlike digital agents, humans can strategize with other humans, allowing them to think about what solutions might work for them. This is a unique advantage of live agents that really applies to anyone, including those with different skills.
Live commerce also gives us the ability to bring others into the shopping experience. To show you how this can work, I want to go back to the previous example of the blind client and a scarf. In Eastern Europe, there are free services that connect visually impaired shoppers with designers who help them select clothes and accessories. Of course, e-commerce would be much more convenient for both, so live services have the potential to connect the two of them to an e-commerce agent as needed. In this scenario, the agent demonstrates the products, while the stylist consults the shopper to make selections.
Of course, live connections aren’t just for the visually impaired. They are also valuable for anyone who needs outside information on their purchases. If you trust friends and family to help you make decisions, you can invite them on a virtual shopping trip.
Currently, e-commerce sites do a good job of categorizing and presenting products according to specific criteria. They can help you find five-star products, within certain price ranges and even from specific brands. But none of them can sort according to skills.
This ability is not far off, especially if we use live trading to start the process. Inclusive classification can start with a rough idea of what might and might not work. Then the data collected during live interactions can also refine the criteria in the future. And since inclusive solutions tend to make things easier for everyone, it’s likely that these criteria can improve the experience for everyone, not just the target audience.
Inclusive shopping has never been an easy challenge, but it is surprising that such a huge opportunity remains untapped. Until now, companies have all too often seen accessibility standards as hurdles to jump over. Instead, it’s time for innovative approaches, and more often than not, that means not inventing anything new, but creatively combining existing capabilities into new solutions.
Today, the technology exists to put live humans in direct contact with buyers. Brands can leverage this to greatly expand the possibilities of the shopping experience and bring it not just to those who need it, but to everyone who can benefit from it. Which, history proves, most likely we all do.