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Definition

frictionless commerce

Frictionless commerce is a method of using data from devices, apps and websites to integrate buying opportunities as simply and seamlessly as possible into consumers’ everyday activities and natural environments. The goal of frictionless commerce, also known as contextual commerce, is for any customer to buy a product or service when and where they wish with as few clicks or other steps as possible.

The theory of frictionless commerce reasons that consumers who do not need to take extra time to think about what they are buying or how they are buying it may be more willing to make a purchase while using an e-commerce website. For example, registration or sign-in to a retail site that requires too many steps creates unwanted friction, potentially causing the buyer to abandon his or her online shopping cart.

Advances in location-based, social and smartphone technologies, mobile payment systems and a decrease in technology costs over time are helping to expand the concept of frictionless commerce. Amazon’s 1-click purchasing on their desktop website offered an early example of a fast and simple transactional process.

Companies that provide frictionless commerce through mobile apps include Uber, Lyft and Starbucks, which have credit card connectivity built into their apps; Square, which has frictionless payment systems; and Apple, which has its own marketplaces. Other types of frictionless commerce include Amazon’s Alexa, Pinterest and Instagram click-to-buy buttons that encourage in-app impulse buying.

Despite advances in frictionless commerce, even essential parts of the online purchasing process like security measures create extra steps, so there continues to be pressure to reduce friction overall. As a result, developers are now looking to new technologies to make the customer experience more frictionless. One example is voice-recognition technologies, such as automatic speech recognition, which works with natural language understanding to enable machines to convert speech to text and process the phrases’ meaning.

Immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) also hold potential for future contextual commerce applications. Businesses can use VR headsets to give customers a virtual tour of their online store to help customers road-test products. These new technologies aim to make online shopping as frictionless as possible for both impulsive and careful customers.

This was last updated in April 2017

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