Technology has already fundamentally changed the way we interact – both one-to-one, and as a group. A community used to be a collection of people brought together through interests and proximity. Today, technology and social media means that people connect with friends and develop communities on the basis of a common interest with no geographic constraints. Yet links between communities are becoming increasingly tenuous and we are seeing a strong trend for interaction moving away from community groups to a ‘crowd’ mentality, enabled by technology. Crowds are larger, exist across wide geographies, and don’t need a pre-existing link to tie them together. Here, Clyde Buntrock, Executive Director Marketing & Business Development at ACS explores how technological development means we can use the power, intelligence, resources and engagement of the ‘crowd’ like never before.
Social media networking sites like Facebook began as a way to connect friends, but have evolved to be much more than that; many of us now having connections with people, businesses, groups and charities that we don’t actually know. More and more of us are sharing ideas and thoughts on Twitter, not just with our friends, but with the connected world. Platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to the crowd, with the opportunity to validate our choices, decisions and purchases with anonymous people linked by the most tenuous of things. Think of independent review and endorsement sites such as Tripadvisor; where we invariably look for well reviewed hotels or holidays irrespective of who made those reviews; what country they are from, what their general standard of holiday may be, family set-up, or their likes or dislikes and so on. We place a great deal of trust in the word of a stranger. The world of the crowd.
Many things can bind people in the virtual world and this is having a strong impact on the way organisations operate. The retail sector is already leveraging virtual communities and crowds to make strategic decisions based on intelligence gathered from them. Data collected through ‘loyalty schemes’ has now given way to proactive ‘endorsement’ of a retailer or brand. Similarly with crowd based funding, there is no real link between the people funding a new venture – apart from their joint investment. Crowd development – where developers work together on a piece of software – works in the same way. Online property platform ‘We Are Pop Up’ has recently launched a crowdsourcing scheme that allows the general public to advertise spaces to let for retailers and start-ups.
Smart phone ownership is now on a par with laptop ownership and the technology for GPS tracking is mature. This year many of us will be paying via our phones in cafes and supermarkets and we’re already using Apps to find taxis and dates! All of this ‘disruptive’ technology is very enabling because it makes things incrementally easier but can also transform industries, as evidenced by the fury of traditional taxi drivers with Uber. Smart phone ownership, and the core technology within, is the key enabler for the crowd as a growing phenomenon.
Forward thinking leaders in the logistics industry will be looking closely at how the trend towards connecting with the crowd may evolve into crowd based distribution systems in the future and what that might mean for supply chains. Cost reduction and consumer convenience will provide a huge motivation for this development. The desired outcome to fulfil the increasing demand for same day deliveries will be satisfied at the same time – why not bolt onto existing transport routes where retailers tap into anyone that happens to be passing a delivery point and use them to ‘blind’ deliver the product?
We’re in an evolving state and it’s not such a massive leap to think that crowd based delivery systems are coming our way, particularly on smaller or low value items. There is a massive drive in the retail sector towards convenience and speed – without the associated increase in infrastructure costs, such as warehouses, trucks or stores. Platforms such as Amazon, ebay or notonthehighstreet.com allow small independent companies or even individuals to trade. It’s never been easier to be entrepreneurial with B2C giving way to C2C. How far will this trend extend?
Who knows? What is certain is that the ‘crowd’ is no longer an amorphous, voiceless entity and using it effectively will have wide-reaching possibilities for the retail and logistics industries.