Relationships for sale

January 17, 2013 by · 11 Comments
Filed under: The RSA, Uncategorized 

Every year I earn a few thousand pounds for the RSA in speaker’s fees. But with the public and third sector ever more financially hard pressed, I often wish my specialist subjects were not public service reform, social innovation and future citizenship but more lucrative, private sector-friendly, themes such as technology and new business models.  If I am to enter the rarified world of the international business guru I need a new and exciting concept to open the door. Maybe today’s blog could be my key to the big time….

I was fascinated to see that Argos has today published impressive results. This is apparently due to to the rise of ‘click and collect’ shopping. It seems that people like the convenience and choice of on-line shopping but also want to pick up their goods in person. The biggest driver may be the hassle involved in being home for deliveries or having to pick them up from a depot (I have never queued for fewer than fifteen minutes at the Post Office parcel centre in Clapham and have simply given up on several occasions).  Other factors may be impatience and, perhaps, the scope to check the item is safe, sound and as ordered before taking it home.

So maybe the death of physical retail is not quite as inevitable as many have been predicting. Indeed, click and collect provides new selling opportunities. Knowing what people have just purchased, stores can offer them reasons to linger – nice spaces, free refreshments – and suggest customers browse associated products (while you’re picking up your new saucepans, how about using your journey to get some cutlery or a recipe book?).

The possible evolution of click and collect into a new form of face to face retailing is reminiscent of other technology-driven processes in which a new business/consumption model arises from the ashes of another. The classic case study is how the access to free (albeit often pirated) on-line music led not to the death of the music industry but to the rise of live performance as the generator of income. Instead of bands going on tours to sell records they record music as a means to sell concert tickets.

Another example is the non-death of watch on broadcast TV. With the internet and technologies like TIVO, the widespread assumption was that everyone would become their own programme scheduler. But while many people do now consume series in the form of box sets not weekly live viewing (as I am right now voraciously doing with the stunning Breaking Bad) the desire to participate in social media conversation has also made it imperative for enthusiasts to watch programmes as they are broadcast. This has been an important factor in the unexpected return to popularity of Saturday night family viewing.

These examples have elements in common. On the one hand, the exaggerated prediction of the demise of an activity which formed social connections between people: shopping, buying records, watching live TV. On the other, the transformation or adaptation of that activity into what is, or what could turn out to be, a more sociable form (going to concerts, chatting on-line while watching, more personalised shopping). Sure, the examples also differ; buying records was not inherently social, nor does click and collect necessarily take us to a more relational form of shopping, but there is enough similarity to wonder if there may be some underlying processes a work here.

So if anyone out there fancies hearing me give an inspiring, ground breaking and amusing talk on the concept of ‘relational displacement in new business models’ (how social relationship hollowed out by technology in one area tend to emerge in a new and often richer form in a parallel area) I am available at reasonable – but not cheap – rates.

 

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