This weekend I spent 24 hours at a Hackathon that ended on Tuesday with a summit full of experts sharing their thoughts on the future. The summit was all about technology and fashion, and more particularly fashion retail, hypothesising how digital will transform this space. Talk about iBeacon technology, the inclusion of mobile and other technologies into the shopping experience, both in the real and digital world, is at a great hype right now.
There’s a lot to it, technology has the power of introducing services and experiences that simply weren’t possible before. The ideas are endless, to give you an idea (without any particular order of what was good or bad). There was talk about:
Changing the infrastructure of the store, by creating mobile checkouts, similar to those at the Apple store, removing the need of a till and entirely changing the point of sale.
Or fusing online and offline behaviour, such as liking products online, to find them available and waiting for you at the store,
Or using the power of social, such as by creating a “stylist-match” app, much akin to dating app, where you can browse through stylists and their fashion preferences, finding a match, and booking an appointment with them at the store.
Make what you want of them, the list goes on,
But the general principle remains the same, its all about finding things that people might want, and trying to use digital services to satisfy those needs. Introducing these into the mobile means that these services can be with you at any time, such as, when you are in-store. Your phone, your small digital microcosm, becomes an extension of that shopping experience.
Apart from the fact, that I find a future in which I am constantly pushed towards a digital screen, even if I am outside in the real world, in a real shop, perhaps a bit bleak, the ideators of most of these solutions (although not all, I’ve seen some really clever ones that get around this) rely on one major assumption:
That I will download the app.
We already know that branded apps are rarely downloaded and even more so rarely used. They are a result of some skewed belief of marketeers, that their brands are so great, that people will actively go out and engage with any interactive foder that they throw at us.
Well, thankfully most of the time, no, we won’t.
According to research by deloitte, only 20% of apps published by major consumer brands are downloaded, and only 1% are downloaded more than a million times.
But there are a couple of ways around this.
One of which, of which I am sure will happen, will be an insurgency of third party apps, that will bundle these shopping experiences across multiple stores and brands. Useful services, that work across different stores, perhaps activated and surfacing on your screen based on location.
A “one-app-for-all” type of solution.
But this is when a slightly more extreme solution occurred to me (and i’m sure surely not just me). Perhaps a result of the cynicism of listening to these marketeers, whose rhetoric increasingly resembles treating us all like cattle.
What if I had no say in what app gets downloaded on my phone in the first place?
What if, by entering a physical shop, an iBeacon automatically prompts my OS to download content, or an app?
When I pull out my phone, content defined by the owners of those spaces, who went in partnerships with my OS developer, surfaces on my screen. The functionality of that phone, the UX, is not designed to favour me but them. Designed to make it easier for me, at any one time, in that particular space, to interact, experience, buy, save, order, consume THEIR products. Terrifying at first, if you think of it, Google Now is not a step too far from doing this.
Suspend disgust of this for a bit, wouldn’t it be great if you could enter a restaurant, and without having to do anything more, a menu surfaces on your phone, you simply order and pay by entering a password or fingerprint to complete the financial transaction? Making the act of delivering services and buying a thing reduced to mere seconds.
Perhaps this model could work so well, that the phone itself, would become free. It could be based on a similar model of that of other free services that already exist, such as the newspapers on the tube like the London Metro or social sites like Facebook. In this case not paid by the advertisers, but by creators of experiences and services, future digital agencies and digital startups.
The difference between a phone like this, and one which belongs to me, would mean that the one whose ownership is entirely mine, is one I still have to pay for, becoming more expensive, and therefore a luxury. A scary thought, and definitely not a future that I’d like to be part in creating or living in but worth hypothesising and mentioning anyhow,
Going to summits like this, and listening to the ever more elaborate ways companies are deliberating techniques not only to change the way they can push their branding onto us (advertising), but the way in which we actually interact with them (service and experience) makes me realise that if we have it entirely their way, such a future is not too far.
For one things is true, the technology is already there.
For more interesting insights about the true cost of free, have a look at Aral Balkans Free is talk:
Play this game, solve puzzle for science.
Warp Drive!? Possible? Wow