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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - May 2013

Understanding The Importance of the Trend of Convenience

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One of the most important trends in our world today, is the Trend of Convenience. It's what is shaping how products are made, how the digital world is changing, and how business models are transformed.

But most people don't realize how it actually works. The 'Trend of Convenience' doesn't make things more convenient. Instead it mostly eliminates limitations that prevent change from happening in the first place.

Take the horse carriage versus the car. Many people think of the car as a more convenient horse carriage, but why is that? Is it because it's faster? Is it because it's more comfortable inside? Is it because it comes with heated seats and a stereo?

No. If that was the most convenient thing, we would have ended up with carriages like this one from artist Jeremy Dean:

The most inconvenient element is not the carriage, it's the horses.

If you owned a horse carriage in the 1850s, you'd have to get up every morning to feed and water them. You'd have to build a stable to keep them safe, with a grassy field where they could walk around.

If you had to go somewhere, you couldn't just drive there and then park your horses at the side of the road. Your horse had to be taken care of while you were gone (especially for longer periods of time).

The reason why we invented the car was not to create a better horse carriage. It was to find a way to eliminate the horses. The horses were a limitation of the past, and the role of the 'Trend of Convenience' is to eliminate any limitation that prevents us from moving forward.

The Trend of Convenience didn't create a faster horse, it eliminated the horse altogether because it was holding us back. And once the limitation had been removed, the shift happened.

It's also the Trend of Convenience that is responsible for the robot evolution, the miniaturization revolution, and the many startups focusing on automatization via the cloud.

Print

Let's talk about this in relation to print. While print is probably one of most important inventions in the history of Earth, it's also exceptionally limiting.

First we have the limitation of time. Print has to be produced and distributed before people can see it. That takes a long time. Then we have the limitation of distance. Print has to be shipped from A to B, and that takes even longer.

Then we have the limitations of the format. Every printed product is limited to a pre-defined rectangle of space, and every page, every article, has to fit into it. That means you have to worry about layout, the size and proportions of images, etc.

We also have the limitation of functionality. You can't update a printed page, you can't share it (at least not easily) and, due to its fixed size, you can only consume it in places big enough. It's not like a smartphone where you can easily navigate around on a 4" screen anywhere you go. You wouldn't read a newspaper while standing in line at the grocery store.

And it has no two-way communication. Meaning it's limited to a one-way passive object.

Then we have the obvious physical weight of print. Dr Mario R. Garcia recently wrote:

I grabbed one of my grandchildren's school backpack recently and it was heavy.

I opened it to discover, to my surprise, that it was full of textbooks, as in printed books, the kind I also used in school when I was a child decades ago when reading on a screen would have been considered science fiction.

Gee, how nice. They are still reading textbooks, ink on paper, in the elementary schools of today, I said to myself.

A lot of people would probably agree with him. But you have to look at this objectively. Why is it nice that school kids are forced to lump around needlessly heavy objects that kids have to carry around, which is rarely used, can't be updated, and has no elements of collaboration within it.

Print is incredibly limiting.

What the 'Trend of Convenience' is doing is eliminating all these elements so efficiently that instead of just removing one limitation at the time, it's completely removing print as a whole.

Just as the car eliminated the horse, the internet was invented to eliminate print. Not to make it better, not to make it faster. The Trend of Convenience is eliminating print, not enhancing it.

Magazines, for example, have a weekly cycle because they are limited by the print production. Without that limitation it makes no sense to delay an article anymore.

Newspapers were formed to be the bringer of news (again a business model defined by the limitations of print), but their role is changing dramatically now that we live in the connected world. As Buzzfeed put it:

The shift here is, basically, from the media having one major responsibility - finding, vetting, and sharing new information - to having another one: guiding an audience that has already been exposed to much more.

And when the limitations of the past have been removed that's when we see the transformation. That's when the real change happens and we suddenly see a new world filled with opportunities that we previously couldn't even have imagined.

This is how it works. The Trend of Convenience is one of the most important trends to understand.

Let me give you an example of what happens if you don't understand this trend. Or rather, if you think of the Trend of Convenience is a way to enhance the old, rather than abolish it.

It's all about augmented reality versus print. Many media companies are experimenting with augmented reality as a way to improve print, and all of them are failing at it miserably.

Take a look at this video.

 

The publisher has created an augmented reality app that plays a video and adds a link to the mobile site when you hold your phone over the magazine cover.

But just think about this for a moment:

  1. First you have to buy the printed magazine and wait for it to arrive (or go out and get it).
  2. Then you have to download and install an app.
  3. Then you have to place the magazine down in front of you
  4. Place you phone in front of it.
  5. Start the app and start the camera capture mode
  6. Then you see a video (often as a one-way broadcast)
  7. At which point you get a link to visit the mobile site.

Instead of removing the limitations of the past, you make them worse. Ok, so you can't show video in a printed magazine, but forcing people to go through this many steps is not better.

And why would people go through this many steps just to find a link to your mobile site. Why not just go to the mobile site in 'step one', saving you all the cost of having to buy a printed magazine in the first place?

This is just ridiculous.

But the reason why this happens is because people don't understand how the Trend of Convenience actually works. They think it is all about making the old more convenient to use. So with augmented reality they can bring video and links into the world of print, and how cool is that?

But the real Trend of Convenience is actually eliminating the past, not enhancing it. Always remember that.

It's the same with Twitter versus SMS. For a long time people thought that the real power of Twitter was because it allowed people to use it via SMS.

But today we see that the real trend is that Twitter replaces SMS. Why send an SMS to Twitter, when you can just tweet directly? The Trend of Convenience is once again removing the limitations of the past, and in this case it's SMS.

Brands and webshops

Now let's talk about this from the perspective of brands. The Trend of Convenience influences everything from how we interact online to the reason why webshops are gaining more and more ground.

If we look at the physical shop, we can very quickly identify a number of limitations. First we have the distance. People can't see what the shop has to offer without going there.

Next we have the limitations of shelf-space, which causes the shops to have very small numbers of products in stock, in a limited range. Compare this to the numbers of products available in your local shop with what you can find on Amazon.

Next we have the weight and mass of the products. Depending what you want to buy and the distance you have to go, you have to secure some form of transportation that is big enough to carry it.

...and the list goes on.

So from the perspective of the Trend of Convenience, it's only a matter of time before physical shops will be replaced by something much less limiting.

The very first step is webshops. Here we can see all the products from anywhere in the world (no distance), we can buy everything we want (endless shelf space... in theory), and the friendly UPS guy will deliver it right to your door (no parking) so you don't have to worry about transportation at all.

When you look at the trend this way, you start to realize that it's only a matter of time before all shopping is done this way. Why stand in line at the grocery store if you can just order everything you need from your smartphone, and have the products delivered right to your door the next morning?

You might remember this:

 

The Trend of Convenience removes all those obstacles.

But web shops are only the very first step. While they eliminate many limitations of the past, they also introduce new ones.

In a physical shop you can touch and feel each product. If you visit a fashion store, you can try the clothes on to see if they will fit. That physical sensation is very important, when you are buying physical products.

It's the same with groceries like fruit and vegetables. We all like to take a look at them to see if they are fresh.

And it's because of things like this, that the online world hasn't completely taken over shopping yet. We still like to see and feel things before we buy them.

But all the trends are pointing towards digital shopping - it's only a matter of time. We see this quite clearly with non-physical products like music, books and games.

So what can you as a brand do to both embrace the Trend of Convenience, boost your web shop sales, and minimize the new limitations that this creates?

Take a look at this product page. It's the typical template-based web shop. You have your product, it's listing the features, the colors, and the price. It's a very nice product, and you can buy it with just a click of a button.

Compared with the physical shop, this is in many ways far more convenient.

But, it also introduces a whole new set of problems. For instance, how big is it? Well, you know it's going to fit your Macbook Air, but most people will have a hard time visualizing it. How does the material feel? How does it work. How practical is it? How does it protect my Macbook?

Even when you zoom in to see the bigger images, you still have no idea what this product is really about.

The mistake this webshop makes is that it actually makes the limitation of web worse than it has to be. On the web we can't feel the material of the bag, and every bag is displayed at the same thumbnail size.

They are in conflict with the Trend of Convenience.

This is why I just love how WaterField Designs is selling their bags. It's a small company in San Francisco, and for every product, the owner takes you on a tour of what it's like.

 

With this simple video (which is less than two minutes long and very quick and easy to make), you suddenly understand all of what this product is about. You can see what size it is. You can judge the material from how it reacts to Gary's touches. You can hear the solid snapping sound when he closes it.

Short of giving you a chance to touch it yourself, this gives you all your answers. None of which you got from the first example that just listed the product.

You see how this works?

This is just one way to eliminate limitations, and it works great for them. But other brands will have to tailor their experience to their specific limitations.

Take online grocery stores. In a physical grocery store, people like to see the quality of the product before they buy it. For instance, does the meat look fat free? Do the fruit and vegetables look fresh? Does the bread look tasty? What is the expiration date on this yogurt?

These are all choices people make.

So if you want to sell groceries online, you have to surprise your customers, by making all these choices for them.

If you visit a physical grocery store, most stores will put the oldest product out in front so they can sell their oldest inventory first. So as a shopper, you get into a habit of always reaching to the back to get the freshest milk, for instance.

But when I started buying my groceries online, they delivered the freshest products to me. They made that choice for me. In the store the yogurt had an expiration date of about 8 days. But the yogurt they delivered to me from their online store had an expiration date of 14-16 days (8 days fresher).

How amazing is that?

It's often the same with fruit. The fruit in the store frequently looks kind of bland. The fruit delivered to me at home often looks fresher and tastier.

This is another example of the 'Trend of Convenience'. The web shop introduces the limitation that people can't choose which bottle of yogurt they want. But you can eliminate that limitation by simply always giving them the best (and it makes great business sense too).

Payment systems

Another big problem in today's world is payment, which is also a perfect example of the Trend of Convenience. In the old days we used paper money, which is extremely limiting. So the Trend of Convenience eliminated that by creating the credit card.

But in today's online world, the credit card has become as limiting as paper money. When you buy something online, you have to find your credit card, type in a range of odd numbers, the expiration data, and a security number. It's just hugely impractical.

Not surprisingly, a big trend these days is for startups to eliminate the credit card altogether. There is a whole slew of new payment startups being formed every month (I have been contacted by five different ones this month alone).

The problem, however, is twofold. We have a limitation in that we have to enter credit card information over and over again. This can be solved fairly easily by creating some kind of payment API that remembers people's payment info across sites.

But this introduces another limitation in which you somehow have to convince people to sign-up for that payment provider, and register your credit card with them (or worse, manually transfer money to them).

All the payment startups are solving the first set of limitations, but none of them have found a good way to solve the later.

And it's because of this that we are still stuck in a rather hopeless way to pay for things online. I will write more about this in a separate report, but here is how I would solve this particular problem.

It is a great example of how the Trend of Convenience is removing limitations of the past, but just replacing it with another set of limitations instead of solving the right problem. If you want to embrace the Trend of Convenience, it's often not enough to just solve the most apparent problems.

The Trend of Convenience eliminates what is causing the limitations to appear in the first place. It goes right back to the very core of the problem.

We don't need this:

It only eliminates the limitations of the final step, but it doesn't solve the real problem. Instead we need this:

Reset

The early car manufacturers didn't try to create a better horse carriage. Instead they eliminated the horse, and asked themselves: "If the carriages could move on their own, what kind of product would that result in?" And the answer to that is what we know today as the car.

Apple asked, "If a phone is not limited to just being a phone, what kind of device would that result in?" And the answer was the iPhone.

Sometimes, though, you exist for the sake of the limitation itself. This, for instance, is what we see with newspapers. Their business model is designed around the concept that people are disconnected and limited to a geographically defined area. So newspapers were invented to bring you news from other places.

Today, that limitation has been removed, so the newspapers suddenly find themselves in a bit of a fix. Their business model is based on a limitation, and removing that limitation removes the business model.

So this is when you have to challenge yourself. Ask yourself: what if all the newspapers were to disappear tomorrow, what kind of new product would people need then?

The answer is (at least) two things.

  1. We still need services that can help us organize content in a personal and relevant way.
  2. We need influencers, who can provide us with perspective, insight, and answers (don't confuse this with pundits).

We don't need bringers of news. We need solutions and insights that can help us make the most of what we automatically get from the connected world.

Embrace the Trend of Convenience

If you want to be successful in the future, embrace the 'Trend of Convenience'. It's one of the most important trends that we have, along with the 'Trend of Abundance' and the other trend of the connected world.

And always remember that the Trend of Convenience doesn't make old things more convenient to do in the future. Instead it eliminates obstacles that prevent change from happening.

As a brand, take some time to identify all the limitations that exists in your market today (limitations of the past), and simply eliminate them in your mind. Then ask yourself: if these things didn't exist, what possibilities does that open up for me? What kind of change does that facilitate.

After you have identified and eliminated the limitations of the past, you will be faced with the new problem that the solutions often bring with them (new limitations). Like when a web shop makes it more inconvenient to buy clothes because it prevents people from trying them on first.

This is where you need to get creative. What can you do to make people feel at ease with their choices? How can you better answer their questions? How can you make people understand how something feels if they cannot feel it themselves? How do you explain how something tastes or smells if they are not in the same room?

The possibilities here are endless, and as the technology becomes ever more advanced, we might be able to eliminate those limitations as well.

The 'Trend of Convenience' is what allows us to embrace the future at the expense of the limitations of the past. Use it to understand the path forward.

 
 
 

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé

 

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