For a 1 year old, is a magazine simply an iPad that doesn’t work? Are we seeing a new generation for whom printed content is essentially broken? I just recently saw the above video on Youtube and it got me thinking about what the future will be for how we will read and consume content. Like I touched on in my Technology vs Advertising post, what we consider technology is predicated by the age in which we experience it. What is considered technology by us now will just be stuff to children who grow up exposed to it. With the release of the iPad, Apple essentially brought to the mainstream a new way to experience content and we are already seeing a change in behaviour as many newspapers struggle with a downturn in readership as people go online for their content on a daily basis. Also printed content is obviously alot more expensive and time consuming to create and produce so we are seeing not just a change in how we consume content but a change for how the industry creates and distributes it as well.
Tablet devices are already impacting upon how people consume content, with more and more people reading books and getting their information from them. I for one enjoy reading the Financial Times on their web app. Reading books and consuming content in this way opens up new opportunities for how we engage with it. About a year ago now, IDEO put together the below concept video illustrating three different concepts for how technology may change the experience of reading for people.
Nelson: Contextualizes books within popular opinion and debate to provide reference and easy cross-checking of information
Coupland: Contextualizes books within your professional social network to make it easier to identify what’s worth reading
Alice: Adds a game layer to the experience of reading, in a sort of choose your own adventure meets geo-targeting scernario.
The key technology linking all the concepts together is that through the internet feeding tablets and mobile we are able to be constantly connected wherever we are which enhances how we find and consume content. New layers of utility can be added to the reading experience that couldn’t be before. As tablets become cheaper and a device for the masses, I believe this will be an area of significant growth. I do however feel there will be a place for printed books for a long time to come. I can see them becoming almost a luxury item such as many of the thriving printed magazines are these days. Since it will be alot more expensive to print a book, it will be left in the domain of the quality publications.
On the other side of the coin though there are wider reaching implications for the industry itself of digitalisation. Firstly, if you remove the printed nature of books, the definition of what one is becomes blurred somewhere between a tweet, an article and a 500 page novel. In the digital environment there aren’t the same parameters as there are in the printed world. Not only that but since the cost is lower and the whole process of producing content is faster, it puts pressure on the current distribution model. The traditional delay of up to a year between a books completion and publication was due to the work required to print, distribute and market but also allowed a means of stock control for retailers with the constraints of shelf space in their store. They needed to sell through one lot of books before they could take on more. Now books can be sold and distributed via the internet, it means book stores need to look at their business models and rearrange them.
What does this mean for the future of book stores? Much like I discussed in the Continuous Channel – Future of Retail post, people will always have a reason to go to stores but retailers will need to design them and consider the service offering as a whole with the online one. Not only does the online offering support the stores but allows the long tail of the back catalogue of books that aren’t held instore to be taken advantage of. I think we will end up with a situation where book stores will still have a place, but just a more specialised and service driven one. We are still seeing stores like WH Smith looking to triple their stores in air ports for example, capitalising on the sales of books in the moment when people need them. Whilst they will be supplying their e-book reader Kobo from this location, they will have a selection of paper backs too. They still currently see the e-reader as incremental to their paper back sales, as two thirds of their sales come from children’s books and non-fiction whereas 90% of all downloaded e-books are fiction (WH Smith plans to triple airport stores – FT.com).
Digitalisation of the book industry impacts not only how we as consumers experience the content but how the industry delivers it. Through the internet and new devices we are constantly connected with easy access to books and content, with new layers of utility added to them. For the industry it means a radical change in the distribution models and looking at their service offering, including an online product as part of it. All that said, there is still something about holding a good quality printed product on high quality stock in your hands.
I have recently been reading the excellent book, Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. In it, he raised some points which really highlight to me the fact that bricks and mortar stores will always have a role to play in the retail environment. In my opinion it is unlikely that retail locations will be completely replaced by E-commerce, M-Commerce or F-Commerce, ever. To begin the discussion, lets look at defining shopping in a way that frames it as more than the simple acquisition of goods to fulfil a need.
Shopping: experiencing that portion of the world which is deemed for sale, using our senses of sight, touch, smell, taste or hearing as basis of the decision making process. (Ref. Paco Underhill)
The key message for me here is the neccessary sensory aspect is lacking in online retailing. Clearly you aren’t able to touch, smell or taste products without physically being instore. It is alot harder to truly understand the selling points of a product without being able to experience it fully. Take a look at shoppers as they wander round a store, picking things up, looking them over, taking them out of the pack, exploring and discovering. Further to this point, impulse purchases are often a result of touching and experiencing the product and indentifying the benefits it holds on the spot.
Merchandising can be just as powerful as advertising. For the most part we like to purchase based on trial and touch.
Why do we want to touch and experience things before we buy them? Firstly, for many products the tactile qualities of the product are a key selling point, such as luxury clothing from Tom Ford or manchester and linen. Even if the tactile qualities of the product don’t neccesarily require it be touched, they often still need to be experienced to get a feel for their benefits. Take technology products such as tablets, until you’ve had a go on one, flicking through some photos and articles, you really can’t tell how useful they really are.
So what else do stores offer that online retailing struggles to replicate?
Brand Experience: The instore environment can be tailored to deliver an incredibly strong brand experience, stronger then any press ad, TVC or web page. The store design and fit out, music, staff, location and surrounding stores all add up to deliver a message to people about your company and its values. Are you a high end store with exclusive location, plush interior and knowledgable staff or a discount retailer with a large store, bulk merchandising and convenient car parking? These choices alter how people perceive your company in a big way. Music also sets the tone of the environment, no self respecting teenager would shop in a store playing classical violin concertos.
Discovery: Instore you can create an environment which encourages discovery, exploring the store and experiencing the product. Sure this occurs on the internet naturally but instore it’s a much more experiential journey. Point of Sale which creates clarity of where you are in the store without oversaturating the information helps add to this. It sets the tone of the products around it but leaves the opportunity to explore the actual products in detail. For example using fashion imagery rather than text description of exact products. Sounds and smells can also be controlled, which can lead people through the store. Bakerys in supermarkets fill the store with the aroma of fresh bread, alluring you to discover and purchase the freshly baked bread.
Talking: Stores attract groups of people, if discussion can be fostered, the products begin to start selling themselves. If for example a group of girls are out looking for jeans, they will chat about the products and which looks best on each other, then perhaps running into friends and start getting their opinions also. This conversation my spread to the shoppers around them, bringing them in to the discussion. Sure it may be argued that this can be replicated to an extent online with F-Commerce (social shopping), but I don’t think it’s quite the same as the organic face to face conversation that can occur in a store environment.
Where does this leave online retailing to fit into the picture?
Obviously it will be a requirement for all businesses to offer their products online in some capacity in future if they wish to make the most of their revenue opportunities. I see it working in tandem with their retail locations. Bricks and mortar stores will be about delivering a strong brand experience for those who visit, allowing people to touch and experience the products in a controlled environment. Online retailing will then open a new avenue of sales rather than canabalising stores. Those that aren’t able to reach your physical stores perhaps due to location or lack of time, are able to purchase. It’s also great for making convenient repeat purchases on products you are already familiar with or low involvement purchases such as groceries. The convenience of being able to shop from a laptop, mobile or tablet, 24/7, 7 days a week is something people will come to expect and is an opportunty for retailers especially considering online stores don’t require staffing to be open and don’t have the same cost overheads.
Online retailing also allows retailers to take advantage of The Long Tail, a theory by Chris Anderson that there is actually more money in the “non-hits” rather than the “hits” as there is a substantially larger amount of them. It is too expensive for a bookstore for example to stock on a shelf a 15 year old book on the history of extinct moth species, filling them instead with the latest Harry Potter. However since online it costs nothing to have it available and you may actually sell one or two a year, add all these “non-hit” purchases up and you have a large revenue stream.
Technology is affecting the way retailers are doing business just as it is effecting the way we advertise to people but I don’t think there will ever be a substitute for the good old fashioned retail outlet.
If you’re interested in reading Why We Buy, you can purchase the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Buy-Science-Shopping/dp/0684849143