business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are countless reasons to dread one’s birthday. Certainly I’m at an age where it’s a reminder of how old I am getting. But increasingly there’s another reason to dislike the day: modern technology.

As the New York Times reported this weekend, birthdays have become the reason for individuals to get flooded with messages from the awkward to the unwanted to countless sales pitches tied to our big day. Consider this: according to the article, some 45 million people send birthday wishes daily - just on Facebook. From personal experience I have found that not listing my birthday on Facebook is no defense. Each year, I am bombarded.

But the Times article hit on more than the annoyance. It’s the notion that all this technology that we love so much at times becomes irritating and more. Another Times article on the same day painted a dark picture of how stores used GPS beacons to track shoppers as they move through the aisles.

It’s easy to imagine that countless readers of those two articles will take a whole new, and far more negative attitude, toward technology even if they will never let you drag their smartphone from their hands.

This is a topic retailers need to consider - now. The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (for which I serve as research director) recently released a new report on how technology is shaping the future shopping trip. It’s worth visiting our website to watch a short video assembled by our study partner to provide a view of the shopping trip of the future.

Here’s the thing: As one council member commented to me recently, there is nothing in that video that is science fiction or impossible technology. Everything shown - 5G, AI, IOT, AR, VR and more abbreviations that you need to know now - already exists. It’s just that no one company has managed to employ them all together.

Essentially the question isn’t if this will happen, it’s when. Just think Amazon Go.

Yet another retailer watching the video offered a very different reaction. He found the video - with the 5th generation cellphones, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, augmented reality, virtual reality and technologically enable customer service - somewhat creepy. But that same retailer predicted that shoppers under age 35 would view it in a completely different way. They might see it as cool and essential.

So obviously, there are some complex issues here.

I would suggest that the challenge facing businesses (and the Times articles make this clear) is how to utilize these emerging technologies in ways that clearly enhance each shopper’s interaction with us, rather than just annoy them with endless birthday “specials.” Clearly we are going to need to explain why we use these technologies and how it will lead to a better experience.

It goes back to an important lesson from Jurassic Park — that too often we do things because we can, not because we should. Companies will have to examine these technologies and contemplate how to best use them to delight shoppers.

Nothing else matters.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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