Last time out, we discussed the lessons we can learn about e-commerce, multichannel strategies and customer engagement from looking at the past. I think there is value in considering what we can learn from future generations too.
As I watch my own children do their homework, I’m often struck by the very fundamental differences in their view of how the world works compared to my generation. To pick just one example, it is perfectly obvious to them that every piece of information in the world, in any subject and from any era, is only a mouseclick away. For this generation, learning is not about finding a rare and dusty book containing precious knowledge. Homework is not about trying to pad out a 2 paragraph encyclopaedia entry into a whole essay on volcanoes. All information is available. The challenge now is not discovering facts, it is synthesising them and building a coherent story from them.
The implications of that change in the availability of information are profound. The generation my children are part of will have a totally different attitude to what education is, what it means to be an expert in something, the relative importance of knowledge versus skill and much more.
And they will change the way they buy, and the way they consume too.
There is an extent, I believe, to which consumer businesses today are evolving the way they communicate and transact with their customers largely because those customers themselves have already changed. In other words, as businesses we are playing catchup with our customers.
For example, as a consumer, I have had access for some time now to a magic gadget that gives me perfect information about all of your competitors’ prices, whilst I’m standing in your shop. And yet few retailers have really grasped what that means, or considered how to make a virtue of it.
But whilst the generation of consumers who are today 30 or 40 have certainly grasped how technology can change the way they deal with businesses, theirs is an evolution in shopping and consumption habits. They still fundamentally buy from recognisable brands and they still believe in the act of shopping (even if it is on the internet rather than in a shop) .
How much more profound will the revolution be when the generation who are today teenagers become the major adult spending power? Is there a role for retailers at all for a generation which will assume that a search engine will find them the lowest possible price automatically? Is there a role for brands for a generation who will trust their twitter timeline more than any media outlet?
In a world where all information is available all the time, how can big consumer brands and retail chains add value?
There is an adage in strategic planning. Less will change over the next 2 or 3 years than you expect, but more will change over the next 10 years than you expect. The wise consumer business should be planning now for a very different generation.