Convenience and consumer control in the digital age
Our Senior Advisor of Future Research and PhD Candidate, Elin Rudberg, shares her thoughts on today’s “desire for convenient and efficient solutions”, and insight into how “businesses could benefit from reflecting more about the consequences for consumer control with increased digitalisation in services and products.”
“It’s all about convenience”. We’re used to hearing about that trend; everything should be as easy and efficient as possible. Technology is an important component, since it enables easier and more efficient solutions in a wide range of areas. Just think of the smart phone – how on earth did we manage before we had “the world in our pocket” all the time? Planning and commitments have changed – we don’t need to plan as much in advance anymore and commitments can always be changed with short notice. It is easy to forget that it has only been ten years since the release of the first iPhone.
In the book Homo Deus – a brief history of tomorrow, historian Yuval Noah Harari discusses the impact of technology on the conditions for human life. He brings up many examples of tasks that will be increasingly performed by machines. Examples range from self-driving cars to the risk that even composers can be replaced by algorithms in the future. There are today computer-originated classical pieces that listeners cannot really distinguish from human-written songs in terms of creativity or emotional depth. In addition, while it would take a composer many days to write a piece, a computer could produce the same product in seconds. Thus, much faster and – in the long run – a cheaper solution.
In the wake of technological development and our desire for convenient and efficient solutions, we are increasingly depending on machines. Digital calendars keep track of our schedule, apps that measure our physical status can help us improve our health in a more efficient way and smart technology in our homes can remind us of mundane tasks such as to water the flowers or to buy a new package of milk. According to Harari, this kind of development is inevitable since we will always say yes to easier, more efficient and convenient solutions. One can ask, however, to what extent this statement about the future and peoples’ behavior is correct?
It is of course impossible and most people would probably agree, undesirable, to try to reverse the development due to fear or anxiety about what technology will bring. But still, as consumers we are handing over more and more control to technology. Do you remember the physical personal calendars where you – and only you – kept track of your schedule and your friends’ birthdays? Today, companies like Apple and Facebook take care of these things for us. Some consumers enthusiastically embrace this development and foresee a future where we are all more or less becoming cyborgs. Others dread it, while most consumers probably lie between these extremes in their opinions.
Against this background, it does not seem far-fetched to believe that many businesses could benefit from reflecting more about the consequences for consumer control with increased digitalization in services and products. Even though consumers engage with and use new convenient solutions enabled by technology, that does not contradict that many also reflect upon their increased dependency (and thus also vulnerability). If brands can acknowledge the loss of control for consumers and convincingly show what they do to meet possible concerns, this insight could be used to build stronger bonds with consumers. To accommodate this kind of wariness, for example in innovation and brand communication processes, would for many brands not be such a bad idea.