With December passing by in its usual blur—what with Holiday parties, gift shopping, year-end celebrations, year-end jitters (hey, it happens!), and general merriment—I got to thinking about how “mobile” everything has gotten these days.
So what if I leave home without checking an online price to comparison shop? It’s no problem. Out comes my trusty old iPhone, and within seconds I’m online and browsing the world for the best price on some shiny new electronic gadget I’ve had my eye on since I slept through Black Friday.
Now, I try to buy local as much as I can, typically in homegrown shops hungry for business and ranking high on the customer service side of things. It’s good for my community, it’s good for the country, and it’s good for my spirits. But I must admit there are times when I need to broaden my horizons to find a hard-to-get item or a deal that matches my budget . . . and it amazes me just how easy it is to, quite literally, “shop the world” and have a product delivered to my door in 3 to 5 business days, free shipping included, of course, unless I need it by Christmas.
Years ago, you were pretty much limited to what your local hardware store, department store, or Radio Shack had in stock. If you lived in a small town, that meant limited availability of products at top dollar. There were no Wal-Mart’s or Targets lobbing pre-emptive strikes of sale flyers right across the street from one another, no Lowes or Home Depots in price wars to see how low each could go on rechargeable drills, gas grills, or lawn mowers. Your options were few, unless you were willing to drive to the nearest big town with your fingers crossed that you could find what you wanted at the price you wanted.
Back then, sales and product information came to you at the speed of nightly TV and Radio advertising, always heavy during the holiday season, plus weekly sales flyers—especially the ones that choked up the Sunday papers until they weighed a ton. You could always count on the ever-popular Sears catalogue, especially the “Christmas Wishes” edition (which I used to wear it out) or maybe the LL Bean or Neiman Marcus catalogues, if you were so inclined. Of course, if you ordered anything by mail, you really had to plan in advance for what was bound to be weeks for delivery. There is no doubt in my mind that holiday shoppers of yore were master planners and tacticians.
Even a short 10 years ago, brick and mortar stores still didn’t get much competition from their online counterparts (Cyber Monday only debuted in 2005, after all). Until then, shopping the Web was mainly the purview of the gadget geeks, the technically savvy, or for desperate someones looking for really hard-to-find items.
But that’s all changed.
We are now living in an increasingly mobile world—and I’m not talking planes, trains, and automobiles (though we Americans do more than our fair share of driving, despite high fuel prices). What I’m talking about is the “mobility” we enjoy due to technology, namely the advent of smart phones, tablets, 3G and 4G networks, and wireless connectivity with the Internet. Nowadays, virtually any information we could possibly want or need, at any time, can be accessed at our finger tips—literally—provided we have a data plan and a strong 3G/4G or Wi-Fi signal.
Many of us forget that the first iPhone was released just FIVE short years ago, in June 2007. Feels like it’s been around a lot longer, doesn’t it? Amazing.
Think of how our lives have changed in that short period. Run-of-the-mill cell phones allowed us to remain connected to friends, family, and work once we left the tether of our landlines, but the iPhone (and other smart phones for that matter) has given us a whole new level of independence . . . a whole new level of mobility. Gone are the tethers that used to bind us to our landlines, PCs, Macs, and wired Internet connections. Now we can connect virtually anywhere, anytime.
While the blossoming of this mobility in the last 5 to 10 years will be lost on today’s youngsters (who have grown up knowing nothing different) for those of us in the 35 to 40+ crowd, we can only wonder if what the next 5, 10, or 20 years brings will be equally as ground-breaking.
Here are some trends I am seeing:
- Both online and brick & mortar retailers will continue to become increasingly smart-phone and tablet friendly. Making product and service information available 24×7 to the growing mobile consumer population is critical to their ability to compete locally, regionally, and globally.
- Digital advertising will evolve beyond banner ads and traditional TV as companies move more of their digital advertising dollars to smart-phone and tablet platforms. The trends are already leaning in that direction.
- With the advent of faster 4G networks, 3G connectivity will decrease in price, making mobile connections more affordable and more widespread for a greater number of people, which means even more mobile consumers.
- Companies will seek better, more efficient ways to deliver digital coupons, offers, and even helpful product reviews to users of mobile devices in hopes of getting them the right information at the right time to close a sale.
- More and more, companies will develop “apps” around their products and service offerings, further tying mobile consumers to their brands. Many companies already do this, from local credit unions, newspapers, and radio stations, to national media companies. What better way to develop brand loyalty than to give away a free (and useful) app linked to a specific product or service?
Where do YOU see “mobility” taking us in the next 5, 10, 20 years? Are we in for more of the same, but just better, faster, more evolved—or is there something out there we haven’t even imagined yet, something that will make today’s “mobility” look more like the pony express than Star Trek?
Share your thoughts here.