Be There or Be Square!

Graphic with the words "BE THERE OR" above a square with a capitol "B" inside

During the 1960s, “Be There or Be Square” became an iconic phrase that challenged people to get with the changing times.

However, the 1960s not only changed culturally but technologically as well. During that time, the early baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) were just entering their teen years. Color TVs were becoming more common, and solid-state transistors were replacing vacuum tubes which allowed for product miniaturization and the popularity of transistor radios, the first hand-held calculator, and the first video game. Does anyone remember the slim-line princess phone?

While the advances that took place in the 60s may not seem so monumental today, they were fast moving and earth-shattering for their time.

Here we are, nearly 60 years and three generations later and the world is once again seeing a cultural, social, and technological change. The Millennials (born between 1977 and 1995) are beginning to dominate the workforce, and right behind them, the Centennial Generation (born in 1996 and later) are just now finishing college. These two generations are are beginning to change the way we think about politics, the environment, and more importantly how we do business.

Both the Millennials and Centennials have never known life before the digital age. Most of them had a cellphone in their hand almost as soon as they could talk. Smartphones, Notebook computers and computer pads equipped with WIFI are a staple in their daily lives.

To these emerging generations, the Baby Boomers and Generation X’s are now the “squares” and will need to change with the times if they want their businesses to continue to succeed.

The key to capturing the attention of the younger generations is speed and technology compatibility.

To begin with, whether you are selling a product or a service, if you do not have an extensive internet presence, you are missing out on the ability to attract two generations of potential customers. In addition, if your website was designed more than two years ago, the chances are it is not compatible for viewing on smartphones and tablets, the two most popular devices used for searching and purchasing products. The latest design technology is called “responsive web design,” which expands and contracts to match the size of the viewing screen. In 2017, Business Finance Corporation’s web page underwent a complete redesign using the latest design techniques.

Hand holding a discount coupon

For retailers, an age-old sales generator has been the use of discount coupons. But in this world of electronics, consumers have been moving away from print coupons and searching the online digital coupons for everything from food items to restaurants and entertainment. For the fifth consecutive year, the redemption of digital coupons has increased by double digits, and in 2017, consumers’ digital coupon redemption rose 67%, while marketers increased digital coupon distribution by 38%. Print-at-Home coupons, on the other hand, saw declines in 2017, with redemption volume declines of 33% compared to 2016. Smartphone apps have the capability to store coupons digitally and check stand readers scan QR and barcodes to apply the discounts.

Of the coupon activity analyzed, Load-to-Card redemption increased the most in 2017, up 67% over last year. Overall, Load-to-Card represents 1.1% of the total 302 billion consumer packaged goods (CPG) coupons distributed. However, 53% of shoppers prefer digital-only coupons.

The printing of newspaper and direct mail coupons has remained relatively flat while their redemption volume decreased by 17.1%.

Artificial Intelligence Chatbot

While coupons are great sales generators, a key industry disrupter, chatbots with artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the e-commerce industry at a blistering pace. With unlimited memory and computing abilities, chatbots will level the playing field between merchants and shoppers by arming consumers with the technology to save money and increase value.

The current e-commerce industry is built around the assumption of the inefficient human shopper. Humans are creatures of habit, favor the familiar, and value convenience. Brands and advertising are artifacts of the limitations of the human mind. Therefore, businesses that are well known, that capture and retain credit cards, take fewer clicks to transact, and offer automated recurring subscription fees, tend to win even if they may not offer the best price or value.

However, shopping bots, that act as intelligent agents, are not swayed by branding and can do repetitive inconvenient tasks. These intelligent bots are hyper-rational shoppers optimizing value for their human owner. They will level the playing field between merchants and shoppers by arming consumers with the technology to save money and increase value.

Bots will diminish the value of customer loyalty. Once loyal customers form a habit, it leads to repeat purchases and higher margins for the merchant. Once bots start assisting shoppers, bots will insist on better value from the merchant in exchange for committing loyalty – inverting the economic value of loyalty. Merchants will no longer be able to automatically assume loyal customers are making a repeat purchase out of habit – they will have to continuously deliver value in every transaction.

We’ve already seen “Black Friday” being converted to “Cyber Monday” with the rise of human-driven e-commerce; this will further morph into “Bot every day” with the rise of bot-driven e-commerce.

A smart phone with NFC technology and the capabilities.

Another game changer has been the increasing use of Near Field Communication (NFC) Technology. NFC allows smartphone users to make secure credit and debit card purchases without opening their wallet and using the actual plastic card.

Juniper Research estimates that the number of people using these mobile payment systems, including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay (formally Android Pay), have exceeded 150 million. The forecast is that the trio’s combined user base will exceed 500 million by 2021. PayPal is also expected to rapidly deploy a portfolio of contactless payment and loyalty solutions that will allow it to compete effectively for market share.

In addition to making mobile payments, NFC technology allows for businesses to directly communicate with customers. When a customer is in their business, they can access loyalty programs and receive in-store marketing in the form of daily shopping specials and coupons.

In short, technology is rapidly changing the way customers interact with businesses, and if you are not keeping up with technology, you’re not communicating with your customer base. So, “Be There or Be Square!”

Your Partner in Success,

David Cabral