“We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it.” – Dennis Gabor, 1963.
As someone who has been involved in the technology industry for the past 3 decades, I can tell you that it actually is possible to predict the future, simply by looking at today’s trends and extrapolating them forward a couple of years. All you need to do is look at what is happening now and observe the impact that something is starting to have, then determine the reason behind it. If the reason makes sense, it’s a good bet that humans will continue to invest time and effort into making that thing become practical, even if the means to achieve that goal end up changing.
A recent example of this of course is mobile devices – people enjoy the ability to remain in contact with others and look up things in real time when they are out and about, so it was easy to predict the rise of smart phones. That said, if you buy and sell online, here are somethings you can expect to see playing a more significant role in your business over the next few years:
The ability to engage with customers in real time
What started as live chat rooms with customer support representatives and videos of product demonstrations on websites is morphing into live video. It seems like everyone is making a play to be the winner in the live video market including of course Facebook and YouTube. Regardless of who the winner is or the eventual technology, you can rest-assured that live video will continue to become more commonplace and that all serious online marketers will be using it to engage with their customers in real time.
Just in time manufacturing
Also known as the Toyota Product System, just in time manufacturing was invented by Toyota in the 1960’s and 70’s to reduce response times from suppliers and to customers. Books, records, and movies all used to be considered physical products, but now have been largely converted to digital formats which can be instantly downloaded. And this has led to even physical representations of those items, such as a printed book, to be able to be manufactured as-needed. With the advent of 3D Printing, every physical item in our world is about to become digital. As the price of 3D printers continues to fall, new opportunities are emerging, especially for ecommerce vendors. 3D printing is creating a market in designs that are meant to be printed by the buyer. The end product isn’t sold — it’s the design that’s sold, along with a license for it to be printed. This might one day blow away manufacturing of the kind we’ve been used to since the Industrial Revolution, and it will certainly change business in the next few years.
Data collection is changing how we shop
Platforms from Instagram to Pinterest influence how consumers discover items and spend their money by making e-commerce about more than dropping items in a virtual shopping cart. The 2016 retail survey by PWC shows that social media is not only a major driver of consumer purchasing decisions, but a primary driver of transactions as well. The amount of information that companies like Google and Facebook have acquired about individual consumers is staggering – it is now possible to target ads to a very select group of people. Are you interested in finding someone who went to a particular college in the 2001 and lives in an apartment of at least 2100 square feet and enjoys attending ballet who has an anniversary with the next 30 days that lives within 10 miles of your business? You can target an ad just to that person. Facial recognition software is making it so that the ads that are displayed to you on the monitors in department stores are geared towards you specifically. We will continue to see more and more finely tuned data for advertisers.
So now that you know what the future will bring, what are you doing in your business to take advantage of these trends? Have you implemented a strategy for live video to interact with your customers? Are you creating your own designs which can be 3D printed? Are you using facial recognition and data-driven advertising? The time to get on-board with these technologies is now – if you wait until they are as common as email, your business may have once again missed the boat.