Let’s take a look at five significant technology-driven changes coming through today that will have a lasting impression.
Traceability is an incredibly important consideration these days. From the consumer’s point of view, you can never have too much information on that piece of produce, that electronic gadget or that attractive woven rug you’ve been coveting at Pottery Barn.
The number of times a product changes hands during sourcing, assembly and finishing doesn’t only impact that product’s quality—it’s a statement about the degree to which its creators valued efficiency and a leaner influence on the natural environment.
Blockchain is a so-called “trustless” mechanism that powers future currencies like Bitcoin. But it can also greatly enhance the tools at our disposal for tracking custody throughout our most vital supply chains, including food, beverages, pharmaceuticals and vaccines.
On the other end of these supply chains is the consumer, who has more tools and knowledge at their disposal than ever before. When companies use blockchain to engage in trustless verification with their suppliers and partners, the benefit to the user is a similar level of transparency. Is that “fair-trade” coffee actually “fair?” Soon, it’ll take just one scan with your smartphone at your local grocery store to find out.
E-commerce is undoubtedly one of the best things to happen to consumerism and individual entrepreneurs in a long time. Right up until we started second-guessing net neutrality, the internet gave everybody—whether they were a major corporation or a smaller startup looking to compete—a fair shot at getting heard and seen by customers looking for products they couldn’t find at brick-and-mortar shops.
E-commerce goes far beyond this, too. Having mobile shopping tools at our disposal gives incredible power to consumers. It’s getting far easier thanks to QR codes, for example, to see entire chains of custody for produce at the supermarket and to perform detailed price checks while standing on a product showroom. Carving through the noise and clutter to make one’s voice heard as a small business owner takes a lot of work, but e-commerce makes it possible to pull up a seat at the table of global commerce.
For all of its potential, using more advanced e-commerce tools requires buy-in from decision-makers: not just of cash, but also of talent. Because developing for mobile platforms and other services comes with user interface and experience expectations, security and privacy concerns, plus a host of other requirements, it’s not surprising the push into digital platforms by today’s brands will cause a notable rise in the future demand for software developers and related fields: a 24 percent increase by 2026, to be exact.
There is broad appeal for contactless payments across the consumer landscape and among financial institutions as well. But what does it bring to consumerism that’s new, exactly, apart from a new way to open our wallets?
Flexibility, broadly, is the appeal here. Increasingly, shoppers want and even need mobile payment and shopping options to accommodate their busy lifestyles. Not to mention, credit cards are famously prone to getting lost, stolen or subjected to other types of fraud.
Contactless payment options like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Samsung Pay offer methods for carrying out mobile shopping and payments, often without inputting credit card information at the point of sale—or even at all. Apple Pay, in particular, thanks to temporary, device-specific credentials, is seeing widespread adoption among small and large retailers, brands and financial institutions as a relatively safe way to conduct business online or in other public places.
Waymo saw a big opportunity in partnering with Chrysler to hasten the transition to driverless cars and offer consumers a convenient payment option in the process. A similar thing happened with Walmart, whose leadership saw a clear way to broaden their appeal and potential target audience by becoming an early adopter of Google Express.
Joint ventures like these and others are an excellent way for brands to pool their resources and their audiences to do some mutual good for one another. But as these examples prove, the result can also be a brand-new way of doing things: a synergy between established platforms and new technologies that offers customers a new way to accomplish old and familiar tasks. In this case, the task might include shopping for household essentials or taking a ride downtown to meet up with some friends.
Having steadily positioned itself as a retail and technology giant for years, Amazon.com seems to be pointing the way toward a somewhat different kind of consumerist future. Amazon recently opened a small handful of Amazon Go stores: three in its native Seattle and one in Chicago. They anticipate opening as many as 3,000 such stores by 2021. But what makes Amazon’s approach to brick-and-mortar consumerism so special?
Mostly, it’s because Amazon Go stores don’t have cashiers. Shoppers enter, pick out the food items they want, then walk out. Cameras throughout the store recognize customers and the goods they pick up, and charge them via Amazon for their purchases as they leave.
Kroger food markets are stepping into the shopping disruption game too, by substantially expediting their checkout process. Although the grocery chain is running only limited pilot programs right now, the “Scan, Grab, Go” program is popular already and expected to roll out to more stores soon.
The handheld scanners offer shoppers a convenient way to scan their membership cards, their coupons and their groceries as they add items to their cart. The result is a far more frictionless and potentially even enjoyable experience while picking up household staples or impulse buys alike.
The lesson here is that technology can step into, and greatly change for the better, just about everything to do with the customer experience. But for modern companies with brand reputation and loyalty on the line, it means recognizing a game-changer when you see one, and in some cases knowing which other companies and platforms to partner with to make the biggest impact and bring about the most buzzworthy shift in consumer expectations.
Kayla Matthews, a tech-obsessed innovation writer, has written featured pieces for InformationWeek, The Innovation Enterprise, The Muse and more. You can see more of Kayla’s work on her site, Productivity Bytes, or follow her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews.