You’ve probably heard that digital technology usually makes things easier, faster and cheaper. Which is always a good thing – right? It’s pretty easy to assume that the latest technology must therefore be “the best.”
The trouble is – just like food – people don’t only want things to be easy, fast and cheap, as you know. You probably enjoy a wide variety of dining experiences, from fast to slow and cheap to expensive. That same idea applies to almost everything else too.
For a long time vinyl, books and Polaroid cameras seemed to lose ground to their shiny, new, digital counterparts. But after years of digital perfection, these analogue experiences are seeing surges in their popularity once again. Although it might seem like it – digital media and online experiences aren’t the only game in town.
Here’s why that matters to business.
First up, let’s look at some interesting examples from the world of UK spending. Did you know that the amount we spend online in the UK goes up by about 15% every year. Impressive right? This is the kind of statistic that seems to prove that people are shifting their money into apps and online stores.
But if you look at the big picture in UK retail, you’ll find that fully 84% of shopping in the UK is still done in a store. So even if you assume that online spend continues to grow at the same speed – it will still be the mid 2050’s before online spending reaches 50% of all UK spending.
I’d be a fool to try and predict the future of online retail. But it’s worth remembering that even a powerful upward trend can come crashing down to earth very quickly. A great example of this is the battle between eReaders and printed books. For a while it seemed like print books were in terminal decline as eReader sales soared. But since then, print books have staged a remarkable comeback.
A recent report in The Guardian noted that “Sales of physical books increased 4% in the UK last year while ebook sales shrank by the same amount. Glance around a busy train carriage and those passengers who aren’t on their phones are far more likely to have a paperback than a Kindle.”
I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. In a noisy world full of fake news – books are a perfect escape from the madness. And if you like books, I’d wager that you love spending ages getting lost in a bookshop looking for that hidden gem that you’ll tell all your friends about.
Meanwhile (for all their plus points) eReaders are just a little bit uninspiring. For a start, they don’t play nicely with airport security and baths. And you can’t exactly share your incredible collection of sports biographies with your mates if they are stuck in a dull grey block of plastic. A quick look at the #shelfie hashtag on Instagram is a proof that print has won over the hearts and minds of people again (for now.)
Fashion vs technology
So what does this mean for business owners, marketers and brands?
The truth is that both the old and the new are vulnerable to the forces of fashion. What is hip and trendy today will be replaced by something very different tomorrow. Just look at the rise and fall of Friendsreunited, Play.com, 3D TV, Google Glass, Minidisc and countless other tech based businesses that are now all but a distant memory.
It’s also worth pointing out that in our increasingly digital world means – people will seek out (and pay a premium for) a simple offline experience. That’s because when people ask themselves “which is the best choice?” – they aren’t just asking which is the best, fastest or cheapest option. Nor are they asking what the latest technology is. Instead, they’re really asking “which is more interesting?”
The forces of fashion are powerful – and nothing is immune to it. That’s why any business would do well to keep their eyes on fashion, rather than technology.