Get ahead of the curve by becoming familiar with three new technologies
One of the hardest things for a business to understand today is how, by how much, and why their customers have changed. There is no doubt that the changes that have taken place in the past 10 years have been more profound than any in the past thousand years as related to commerce. To ignore this reality and try to do business “the way we have always done it” is a fast track to irrelevancy and bankruptcy. I would like to explore here some of the major factors that are influencing your customer and more importantly, how you can use this information to keep them coming back to your business.
Humans change core beliefs and values very slowly but they do change what we often call “habits” relatively quickly and easily. Think of your own shopping patterns. Are you buying the same groceries you bought five years ago? You would most likely say “no” because your circumstances have changed in the past five years. You may be eating healthier (or the opposite!), you may have shipped a voracious eater off to college, or you may have added a new member to the family. Think about what you now have for dinner and lunch and how that likely differs from five years ago. Think where you are buying your food and even what food you are buying. Likely it is very different due to the reasons above and for even more reasons.
But what is likely enduring is that you have standards for the quality of the food you consume as well as how you consume it. You have probably not stopped using a fork and knife and switched to just eating with your hands (or maybe you do if you have a burger now and then!). Our core behaviors, learned as children, are harder to change and remain more constant. The way we shop changes as we grow; where we shop also changes with our lifestyle and influences of our society.
The mobile phone has been one of the greatest “disruptors” that we have ever seen in retail. Given the ability to instantly access not only information but also input from family and friends about every purchase has changed the way consumers view and interact with retailers. Long gone are the days of getting in your car to drive to different stores to compare prices; they are now available right in your hand. Gone also are the days of waiting to ask friends or family their opinion of a desired purchase or feedback after the purchase, such as “What do you think of my new kitchen floor?” Now the opinions and feedback occur in real time before, during, and after the purchase, making the path to purchase very different from what it used to be.
Technology beyond the phone is also having a profound impact. There are three technologies in particular that you need to not only pay attention to – but more importantly – have a strategy of integrating into your business. These three technologies are Augmented Reality (AR), Conversational Commerce and the Internet of Things (IoT). Each of these technologies is having an impact on your customer’s shopping journey and therefore needs to be part of your strategy today.
Augmented Reality is the ability of computers – and more often mobile phones – to insert objects into a real environment. The use of this technology is growing daily. Think of your customer taking a picture of their kitchen and then with a few swipes adding a new floor, cabinets, appliances and lighting, totally customizing the scene. And because this technology can also provide exact measurements, the customer can decide how much tile is required, the size of the cabinets that they can have, the size of the appliances, and get an accurate cost estimate for that makeover. This is not science fiction; it is being done today by many retailers for components of it, and it will not take long until all of this ability becomes integrated into one simple app. Remember, one of the things the new consumer has learned to love is DIFM (Do It For Me), and there are thousands of apps and companies doing just that.
Conversational Commerce, (think Alexa and Google Voice) is just in its infancy and yet it is quickly moving from the home to the auto to the mobile phone and to every part of our lives. People love to talk to their devices even more than just typing or swiping. As these helpers get more sophisticated, consumers will rely more and more on them to assist them in day to day living. They will ask Google or Alexa to show them what a new bathroom would look like, give a price and schedule an installer to make it happen. Voice is becoming the next frontier for acquiring products and services. These artificial intelligence devices will become smarter and smarter and more integrated into our everyday lives and that means how we buy things.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is simply adding smart technology to devices that can then be controlled or programmed to behave a certain way. Imagine your refrigerator with the ability to schedule a service visit when it knows that a part is failing, or a heated floor in the bathroom that turns on when you tell the shower to start and brings the floor to a preset temperature based on ambient temperature and the preference of the individual taking the shower. The shower will also be the desired temperature for the individual based on the family member’s preference. The IoT device is imbedded in the water lines and in the floor heat controls. There is no end to how the IoT will change the way we live and interact with our environment. Try telling a 16-year-old today that there was a time that you had to get up and twist a dial to turn on a TV, and that to change the channel you had to get out of your chair, walk to the TV and turn the dial. This behavior seems almost quaint today. Just think about most of what we now do that will also seem quaint in 10 years!
The three technologies that I described are here today; they are also integrating with each other and exponentially changing what is possible and what we will be experiencing in the VERY near future. As a business, you need to be aware of each of these technologies, hire people who are familiar with them, get your own Google Voice and/or Alexa, as well as download AR apps to your phone and play with them.
Remember the words of Jack Welch (which, by the way, GE failed to listen to): “When the rate of change outside your business exceeds the rate of change inside your business, the end is near.”
For more information about James Dion and Chicago-based Dionco, Inc., retail, consulting and training company, please visit www.dionco.com.