Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Dawn of Autonomous Cars, and the Demise of the Car Driving Experience

The phenomenon of fully autonomous cars has begun. “Self-driving cars without a human behind the wheel could run freely on UK roads from 2021, the chancellor is set to announce”, according to AutoCar. Unfortunately, by replacing human drivers with robot drivers, the end of a rather emotional relationship that we are having with cars, will begin.

Cars, for many people, are more than a just means to an end. “The type of car you drive tells a story about your personality. It may not be obvious, but people do share a lot of things in common with the cars they drive, and will choose a vehicle that represents their own particular talents and interests and reflect their values in life” suggests Joel Wong in TOC.

I wonder what autonomous cars can reveal about my personality?

Autonomous cars

Wikipedia defines an autonomous car (also known as a driver-less car, self-driving car, robotic car, autos) and unmanned ground vehicle, as a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.

Just like us, self-driving cars need to have sensors to understand the world around them and a brain that collects, processes and chooses specific actions based on information gathered. Therefore, autonomous cars are fitted with advanced tools to gather information, including long-range radar, LIDAR, cameras, short/medium-range radar, and ultrasound (Chris Giarratana, ReadWrite.com).

The data collected are analysed and by using complex algorithms and digital maps, the autonomous car is steered clear of mishaps and hopefully reach the destination it was programmed for.

The use of autonomous cars can have the following advantages and disadvantages (Paul Goodman, AxleAddict):

ADVANTAGES

DISADVANTAGES

  •  No driver means more space and more entertainment;
  • No bad drivers, thus less road accidents;
  • Traffic could be coordinated more easily in urban areas to prevent long tailbacks at busy times;
  • Sensory technology could potentially perceive the environment better than human senses, seeing farther ahead, better in poor visibility, detecting smaller and more subtle obstacles, more reasons for less traffic accidents;
  • Speed limits could be increased to reflect the safer driving, shortening journey times;
  • There would be no need for drivers’ licenses or driving tests;
  • Autonomous cars could bring about a massive reduction in insurance premiums for car owners;
  • Efficient travel also means fuel savings, cutting costs.
  •  Driver-less cars would likely be out of the price range of most ordinary people;
  • Truck drivers and taxi drivers will lose their jobs, as autonomous vehicles take over;
  • A computer malfunction, even just a minor glitch, could cause worse crashes than anything that human error might bring about;
  • If the car crashes, without a driver, whose fault is it: Google/the software designer, or the owner of the vehicle?
  • Hackers getting into the vehicle’s software and controlling or affecting its operation would be a major security worry;
  • Reading human road signs is challenging for a robot;
  • How would the police interact with driver-less vehicles, especially in the case of accidents or crimes?

So, there are many pros and cons that we have to consider when we decide to buy autonomous cars. But sadly, there’s a lot that we will leave behind, like the feeling of driving a car…

Real cars and the joy of driving them

The ribbon of shimmering asphalt curved between the mountains of the Peloponnese and the azure Aegean, which glittered in the late afternoon sun. The engine of the Audi A3 growled – a satisfying, syrupy growl – as I pressed the accelerator. As the car started to shift, I realized in a moment of clarity that I was very, very happy

Pirelli & C


The nice feeling that you get when driving a car, as the narrative above of Pirelli & C suggests, may soon only be a faint memory because of autonomous cars. “Where’s the thrill?” asks Giancarlo Perlas in BenzInsider. He later proposes: “Self-driving systems will likely be optional at first, and mandatory later. By that time, the only way to feel the thrill of driving will be through VR simulators (that will become mainstream by the time) and casual games like the AllSlots’ Racing for Pinks.”

That’s scary – we’ll lose the sensation of driving a car because of robots doing it. And, wait for it – we then have to rely on robots to simulate the feeling of driving a car that we are craving for. It’s a strange place, this digitize world.

Cars and humans – like men and their horses…

A very long time ago, before cars and trains even, people had horses to get them from A to B. There were horses of all shape and sizes, most with an owner and many with a name. But it was how humans bonded with horses. “Both the horse and the human become attuned to each other’s physical and mental ways, thus developing the state of co-being” according to Horsetalk.co.nz. Then cars started replacing the horses.

“Car consumption is never simply about rational economic choices, but is as much about aesthetic, emotional and sensory responses to driving, as well as patterns of kinship, sociability, habitation and work” suggests Sheller, (2004). Sheller, in explaining the “feeling of cars” proposes that pleasure, fear, frustration, euphoria, pain, envy (i.e. emotional responses), to cars and feelings about driving are crucial to the personal investments people have in buying, driving, and dwelling with cars.

So, as previously with horses, humans did found a willing emotional partner in the form of their cars. And now the robot is starting to replace the car, and it is impacting on business. Viereckl, Ahlemann, Koster and Jursch (2015) had this to say about the ‘promise of autonomous driving’: “It’s a disruptive technology that will upend traditional auto industry structures, usher in new business models, and change the nature of the business. “

Concluding

It’s not easy to comprehend an emotional bond between robots and humans. Maybe it’s because robots can be learned to predict your behaviour. After all, who better than to ask Jeremy Clarkson for an opinion on autonomous cars: “I drove a car the other day which has a claim of autonomous capability and twice in the space of 50 miles on the M4 it made a mistake, a huge mistake, which could have resulted in death”, reported Holly Christodoulou, The Sun.

Like horses had to make way for cars, so will cars have to make way for autonomous cars. What a pity…

Read also: Retail and the Internet of Things

Notes:

Sheller, M., 2004. Automotive emotions: feeling the car, Theory, culture & society, 21(4-5):221-242.

Viereckl, R., Ahlemann, D., Koster, A. and Jursch, S. 2015. Connected Car Study 2015: Racing ahead with autonomous cars and digital innovation. Strategy& http://www. strategyand. pwc. com/reports/connected-car-2015-study

Image:

  1. Wikimedia

 

The State of Retail 2017 – The Unstoppable Force of Change

What is the state of retail in 2017? What are the movers and shakers doing? And are there any retail stores left to close?

You can hardly keep up lately with all the news, good and bad, about the state of retail. News about customers shopping more online, and using mobile phones to do so. The expansion of Amazon.com to the physical retail channel and Walmart’s effort to mimic Amazon’s online business are also headlines.

Reports of thousands of retail stores closing in the US and elsewhere keep industry commentators and opinionists busy. Many suggest that retail technology may help to stop the rot…

Let’s look further at the matters that influenced the state of retail during 2017.

Retail customers continue to shop more online

There is no doubt that more retail customers are shopping online. The U.S. online sales are expected to reach more than $459 billion in 2017, rising 14% from last year and accounting for 12.9% of the anticipated $3.56 trillion in total retail sales, according to Forrester Research.

And retailer customers shop more online using mobile devices. In fact, according to Justin Smith, CEO of OuterBox,. He said that significantly more people are accessing the web from a tablet or smartphone than a desktop, and they’re doing it with more eCommerce intent than ever before.

The online shopping experience clearly has a major effect on eCommerce sales: The Forrester 2016 Customer Experience Index found that digital retailers delivered 17 positive experiences for every negative one, compared with just 13 among traditional retailers.

Amazon.com is making big moves while Walmart is trying to stay relevant

Amazon.com has made huge progress towards establishing Bricks and Mortar businesses during 2017. According to Dennis Green, writing in the Business Insider, Amazon.com has opened bookstores in major cities like Seattle, Chicago, and New York. He says that the stores operate exactly the same as Amazon’s online bookstore, since they allow visitors to browse a curated selection similar to how it appears on the site. There are currently 11 stores open, with two more on the way.

Even more significant was Amazon.com’s acquisition of natural foods store Whole Foods. Whole Foods was already a national chain with more than 450 stores, but with the power of Amazon behind it, it has the potential to be something even larger (Business Insider).  By the way, Amazon.com paid $13.7 Billion for Whole Foods (Bloomberg). However, with the acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon.com was entering Walmart’s territory.

So what was Walmart doing during 2017? “Walmart has an annual turnover of $170 Billion and has largest share of US grocery retail sector by far” writes Phil Whaba in Fortune. That means that they really needn’t have to worry about Amazon.com, or do they? Walmart is worrying, and doing something about it…

Walmart is taking the battle with Amazon.com on the latter’s own soil – ecommerce.  “The e-commerce competition between Walmart Stores Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. is heating up, and Walmart executives are saying “bring it,” with plans to continue investment in its online and multi-platform capabilities” reported Tonya Garcia in Market Watch.  For the second quarter, e-commerce sales, which include purchases that are shipped to customers’ homes as well as transactions that are fulfilled in stores, such as the online grocery service, were up 60%, conclude Tonya.

But what was happening with the other retailers during 2017?

The apocalypse of retailers

The apocalypse of retailers refers to the closing of a large number of American retail stores since beginning in 2016, according Wikipedia. There was no respite for the industry as the apocalypse of retailers kept going on during 2017. Derick Thompson (The Atlantic) suggested that there are three explanations for the demise of America’s storefronts:

  1. People are buying more stuff online than they used to.
  2. The USA built way too many malls.
  3. Americans are shifting their spending from materialism to meals out with friends.

However, there are different opinions about the severity of the apocalypse of retailers. Glenn Taylor in Retail Touch Points writes that the retail apocalypse is more like a retail transformation. He suggests that while many retailers remain in flux, it appears more brands are getting the right tools in place to engineer a turnaround. Some commentators recognize that retailers shouldn’t seek the answers for the problems outside their organisations…

Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon suggested in Bloomberg that the problems with US retailers are of their own making: “The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.”

If the retail apocalypse can be countered by turning your company around, which usually involve spending more money, but there is no money, well then…

So, will retail technology keep the retail apocalypse in check?

How did retail technology affected the state of retail during 2017?

The adoption of the latest retail technology is proposed as one way to stop the demise of retail stores. Especially is the use of learned machines, data, and virtual- and augmented reality seen to make the in-store shopping experience of customers more pleasant. That, some says, will bring the feet back in the stores.

“With shoppers’ expectations rising, the proliferation of data and new touch points, and increasing competitive pressures, retailers must focus on delivering the most relevant customer experiences possible in order to succeed”, concurred Jeff Barret in Inc. That’s where the problem is with retailers – they have the data, but they don’t know how best to use it…

“Many businesses are failing to make the most of the technology available to them, gathering only a tiny fraction of the available data. They are using valuable manual resources to process and analyze the data they do get and presenting the findings in an incomplete or unnecessarily complicated way”, writes Patrick Reynolds in his blog eTech.

Thus, although retail technology was around during 2017, it seems that most retailers missed the opportunity to use it effectively.

Concluding

Now you might be asking: “What will the state of retail be in 2018?” It may be ‘same old, same old’ or a barrage of new pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises. I don’t know. May it is time that we go back to our customers and ask them. I’m sure they will know the answer…

Happy 2018!

Images:

  1. Georaph.org.uk
  2. Pixabay.com; Pixabay.com
  3. StaticFlickr.com

Read also: Crossing the digital threshold – adding Clicks to Bricks for sustainable retail outcomes

My Avatar and Me – Coping in the Virtual World

I got it when I discovered the virtual world, my avatar. It’s like jumping into an uncomfortable spacesuit and then free-falling from the physical world into the digital world. This is a world full of zeros and ones, to which they answer only yes or no, which should be only right or wrong. How on earth can we ever comprehend this abstract environment? We need to digitize ourselves. Hence may avatar and me…

What is an avatar?

Your Dictionary defines an avatar as something visual used to represent non-visual concepts or ideas. Or it may be an image that is used to represent a person in the virtual world of the internet and computers. Peachey and Childs, (2011)1 suggest that taking on the form of an avatar within a virtual world is resembling a literacy of crossing down from the real into the digital. Consequently, many of us created our first avatars when we start playing games online.

With online gaming, virtual worlds are three dimensional environments in which you can interact with others and create objects as part of that interaction. How do you do that? You appear as an avatar in the virtual world: an avatar is a virtual representation of you (a ‘virtual ego’) which can take on any shape or form as you so wish (Virtual Reality Society). Just like my avatar and me…

My avatar and me going shopping

Now we move from gaming to shopping. How will my avatar help me shopping in the virtual world? It can be done with the help of your online retailer… According to De Mesa, (2009) 2 brands can, by being three-dimensional and interactive, move past the ‘show me’ paradigm of other media and get into the ’touch me’ world of true interaction.

Take for example shopping online for clothing. From the start this was a potential minefield. “The issue of getting the correct size remains a serious drawback for buying clothing and footwear online. Sizes vary from brand to brand, and since you can’t try out the products before buying them, selecting the size is always a gamble”, says Tarun Mittal, YourStory.com.

However, the industry is pouring millions of dollars into developing and trying technological solutions. Augmented reality, avatars and algorithms that approximate your size based on measurements you provide are already in the marketplace (CBC News).

So, my avatar (and me) can now click on an app to select my body shape and click on a piece of clothing I want to try. My avatar will appear in a 3D image wearing the item in the comfort of my own home. That’s really cool, isn’t it!

How can using avatars help retailers?

Just as we are using avatars to ease into the virtual world, so retailers use avatars to target their audience better. They call these avatars personas. Retailers, for example, create personas to help them understand their customers better. “It’s not who comes to your website that is important it is how they behave when they get there that is key to your success”, say Jackson (2009) 3.

Jackson (2009) 3 also suggests when designing personas, retailers should look at a number of different sources of data to define how to get to their role models. These are:

  1. Demographic data – age, gender, geography (data acquired from customer surveys, CRM data or other sources).
  2. Customer psychographics – what the customer does in the pre-purchase phase found by looking at a number of different sources in addition to the demographic data, such as web analytics keyword data.
  3. Market data – such as how the branding and market place effects the decisions of the persona. Web analytics keyword data, Google Trends and data from doing a competitor analyses are good sources of information.

Once a retailer has all the data about her customers, she can create an avatar or persona for customers that are interested in a specific product or product line. Below is an example of a completed buyer persona.

Concluding

The advent of the internet and technological advances thereafter have plunged us all in a new world. It’s a new world with a new economy and new rules – for most an exciting though scary space. By creating avatars and personas, machines and humans can meet on common ground – each wearing a spacesuit to make sense of one another.

Notes:

1Peachey, A. and Childs, M. 2011. Virtual worlds and identity, In: Reinventing ourselves: contemporary concepts of identity in virtual Worlds, 1-12, Springer London.

2De Mesa, A. 2009. Brand Avatar: Translating virtual world branding into real world success, Springer.

3Jackson, S. 2009. Chapter 6: Developing and Measuring Motivational and Behavioural Personas, In: Cult of Analytics: Driving online marketing strategies using web analytics, Routledge.

Images:

  1. slidesharecdn.com
  2. Pixabay

Read also: Chatbots in Retailing – a Fact or a Fad?