As sites and services become product aware, the age of pervasive commerce begins

Innovations in e-commerce, supply chain and logistics technologies have transformed the way we buy and sell products today. As a result of these investments, we are now entering the era of pervasive commerce – where every interaction in the physical world or on the web is an opportunity to inform, educate and buy or sell products and services.

Apps, services and websites will become ‘product aware’ and hyper-personalized to deliver the right product information at the right time to the right person. Just as Google Maps makes apps ‘location aware’ and Facebook makes apps ‘people aware’, we’ll add products to the type of information that we take for granted in the daily information flow of our lives.

In 2014, we’ll see investment in product awareness and product intelligence for the physical world and the web. These investments will enable a new level of contextual product intelligence that will allow brands and retailers to provide you with information on products and services dynamically, whether you’re at home reading a blog or walking by a store.
mobile location
You can see early signs of product awareness in action at Pinterest. Through Pinterest’s developer API, companies can showcase their most popular pins on their own websites and mobile apps. This is essentially converting a pin into a product offer, which a potential customer can click on and buy the product right from Pinterest. Companies can extend the Pinterest model, with or without APIs, to tag and enable any crowd sourced or consumer-generated content into the appropriate offer. For example, Instagram photos and tweets could be enabled with product offers for the convenience of their users.

Commerce in the physical world will be transformed by mobile and wearable devices that will alert and provide contextual information to browsers. Macy’s is experimenting with in-store beacons to transmit promotions, coupons and recommendations to a customer’s phone as they move around the store. Wearables with cameras, such as Google Glass, will be able to recognize products in the real world, and at the request of the wearer, be able to provide summary information and details that lead to a sale.

Advertising is also being transformed by product awareness. For example, companies like Skimlinks and Viglink display product related information for any mention of a product in a blog or a web site and provide the potential customer with product details and offers that are meaningful to them. While this is similar in practice to affiliate links, it is the scale and the precision of the offers that will improve by orders of magnitude.
Big data and machine learning algorithms will be employed to recognize every instance of a product or product attribute mentioned anywhere on the web, and then automatically, without human intervention or curation, tag those mentions with the appropriate offers for the person who is browsing that content at that moment. The science will be in dynamically matching the preferences of the prospective buyer with the attributes of the product in the context of what they are viewing at that precise moment.

This push to product awareness will give rise to an ‘infinite product catalog’ in the cloud – one that offers comprehensive, dynamic and up-to-date information on a broad selection of products to a deep level of detail with lots and lots of attributes such as price, material, color, discounts, availability, ingredients, where designed, where manufactured and so on.

The catalog will be assembled by collecting and structuring publicly available product information on the internet and then augmenting that with information contributed by businesses and consumers. This does require deep expertise in what I call ‘product data science’, to get the required breadth, depth, quality and freshness of product information. Once it has been assembled, the ‘infinite product catalog’ can be put to a myriad uses through web APIs or as SaaS applications.

The era of pervasive commerce will begin.

Sanjay Parthasarathy (@sanjaypat) is founder and CEO at Indix, a SaaS and data platform.