Tech is no longer a sector. It is everything
Do you want to turn your company into a tech firm? Owner of an antique book shop? Founder of a vintage fashion store? Director of a designer patisserie? Teching-up might not seem right for your business. But here’s the truth: you are going to have to do it anyway. The reasons are not because the consumer has changed tech, rather tech has changed the consumer.
Real-time internet shopping has been with us for a while now, but, as with any other seminal change, humans take a while to evolve. We are now becoming cyber-consumers. The instant-booking, perfect-information app culture has smashed the old system. Waiting has fallen out of fashion. An expectation of rapid customer service; vast choice; and an acute awareness of – and sensitivity to – price are the key ways that the consumer has become more formidable. In order to meet consumer demands you don’t need to sell tech, but you should use tech to sell.
Let’s return to our trio of shops. Why must an antique bookseller, vintage fashion retailer and designer patissier – who, by definition, trade on the uniqueness of their product rather than on their speed and price efficiency in a mass market – turn their companies into tech firms? The short answer is because, if they don’t, their competitors will. The longer answer is that the evolution of the cyber-consumer is probably more beneficial than it is bad for diverse and independent businesses.
Consider it at a relatively basic level, through the prism of another industry – catering. The now ubiquitous app OpenTable requires a fairly rudimentary investment in tech by any restaurant that signs up to it. Because patrons need to be able to make reservations instantly, without phoning, an old-fashioned reservations notebook won’t cut it. Most restaurants and pubs near me have teched up and signed up to OpenTable and the result is interesting: I have discovered many more places to eat thanks to the app. Before OpenTable shot to the fore, our eyes and ears were the only tools we had to find new places. Because, by definition, bigger chains and well-established places have larger marketing budgets and more prime locations: we saw them first and most. Tech is tipping the balance back towards the hidden gems down back alleys that cannot afford blanket leafleting and expensive advertising.
One of the next big things in tech marketing are apps that bring the benefits of OpenTable to other retail sectors – vintage fashion, antiques and niche food among them. Want a smart 1960s-style shift dress to wear to a party? Punch in your size and the app will tell you who has a frock that might fit. Fancy a first edition of a favourite book? Your smartphone knows where you can pick one up. In a hurry for an authentic French strawberry gâteau? A simple search will reveal a baker that does one, just around the corner. Of course, these innovations require effort on the part of the retailers to digitally catalogue their stock – and that’s just the point. To survive – and thrive – in the cyber-consumer age, every company has to think like, and become, a tech.
Simple digital cataloguing and instant retailing are just the beginning. In future, you will be able to describe the sort of party you are attending, and your app will advise you where to find the outfit, buy an antique gift perfect for the hostess and a cake for the host. Used properly, and with effort from the retailers, the advent of the cyber consumer has the potential to democratize business beyond the stirling efforts of eBay and Airbnb. But it will take a mentality shift among traditional businesses. Those who embrace their tech future will thrive. Those who don’t will fail to survive.
This article is based on ideas in Andy Law’s book Upgraded: How the Internet Has Modernised the Human Race, LID Publishing
Andy Law is executive chairman of Inition and an independent consultant to businesses on how to modernize and keep ahead