Friday, June 27, 2008

Be careful, what you see is blinding you!

I visited one of my company's field sales offices this week for a customer call. After the meeting, I had lunch with some of my sales colleagues and we got into a really interesting discussion.

I maintain that in the not too distant future, the retail industry will undergo transformational change. And the bricks and mortar incumbents will disappear (unless they radically change).

Here's why:

Shopping sucks. Even if you like shopping, it usually sucks. You have to drive to the store which has gotten pretty expensive lately. You often fight traffic just to get where you're going. Then you have to deal with stores that are poorly laid out and deal with salespeople that don't know anything about the products they supposedly sell. And you sometimes have to go from store to store until you find what you want.

I think much of what we buy does not need to be bought in a bricks and mortar store. Apparently I'm right because billions of dollars of goods are bought online every year and the number is rising rapidly. But I argue that this will continue to happen ever more rapidly and here's where it gets interesting: that this will happen in product categories that many people today don't think will ever be sold in large quantities online.

When I say this to people, they usually tell me "well, you have a good point but there will always be a need for stores. People are always going to want to..." and then they tell me about some product category or another that simply is not amenable to online sales.

This is where you have to watch out! This is just people assuming that the accidents of their current life are essential to the human condition. And most of them are not. Some people like to go clothes shopping today. But that does not mean that this is essential to the human condition. What is essential is that people crave experiences and the company of others. But they don't have to satisfy those cravings with shopping. In the future, maybe there will be alternate outlets and shopping will be a solitary online experience.

You must remember two things:
1) You are not everybody. You see your own condition. You see your friends. You do not see everybody. And you do not see the future. If you're my age or older, you did not grow up with the internet. You have no idea what it feels like to be someone who did. They have a different mindset. They are far more accustomed to defaulting to the online world.
2) Technology will improve. Visual technology will improve so online merchants can post much higher fidelity pictures of their wares. There will be smell technology so we can experience food online. Sound technology will improve. Maybe there will be devices that actually allow me to test drive a car online...

When you catch yourself saying "people will always/never..." stop yourself. You are probably just projecting your own needs and wants. You are blinded by what you see. And your blind spot is my opportunity.

No comments: