The future of drones, and the dark side of shopping

Written by on June 21, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Drone Delivering Urgent ParcelIt had to happen. Almost every new technology is exploited first by the bad guys. So, too, it seems with drones.

Take drugs.

Many do, but the days of the street corner or covert meeting under the motorway fly-over may be numbered. A recent CCTV film covering a particular block of flats in London recorded a drone fly into view and hover outside a window. A hand reached out, took a package and replaced it with what is widely assumed to be the next order. One can only assume that payment was effected by some mobile payment technique.

It is almost as amusing as the news reporter who was doing a piece to camera about how no-one was able to figure out how drugs were getting into a certain prison, when a rope was hauled up the wall behind her, a package tied to the end.

Drones seem to be dominating discussions about the future of (legal) shopping. It is a symptom of that fact that the industry seems to be obsessed by speed. There are signs of the sides of delivery vans for supermarkets that say ‘brought to your door within an hour’. These vans are generally driven by very tired people. There was a sign in a physical (you actually have to say that now) store that promises prices ‘better than on the internet’. The physical and virtual stores have already merged, driven by smart customers using the store to browse and their phones to browse for a better price. Stores seem to be fighting this by reversing this trend. And now, it will delivered to your home almost before you get there.

This need for speed has become almost like a drug. And we need to break the habit before it is too late.

As Teresa Cottam says, speed is not important to the Generation (known for some reason as ‘Z’ – as if they are the last) that will be between 20 and 30 in 2025. Indeed, as her ‘Z’ consultant points out, “When we use the self-service screen in McDonald’s it’s not because it’s quicker or easier to use, it’s because we don’t have to speak to anyone and don’t need to remove our headphones.” While this might make some of us feel a bit old and a bit grumpy, it is now the way of it.

This is backed up by recent research into what is trending in retail. Walker Sands do an annual survey and they found that speed is nice, but not essential. According to their survey of 1,400 shoppers ‘free shipping continues to be the top incentive to drive more frequent online shoppers (88%), followed by one-day shipping (69%), free returns/exchanges (68%), and easier online returns (58%)’.

Ah, so, as we thought, customer experience is more important than speed. It might even be, given that returns are a barrier to the online ‘buy and try’ process that drones are the best method to deal with returns. That would be cool.

What would also be cool is if the mobile payments landscape would settle down. At the moment there is confusion and a million options. At the moment there is the perception that mobile payments are not secure yet and at the moment everyone thinks (with good cause) that the moment you pay with a phone your data is being shared with anyone who has an advert to plaster on your digital wall.

Drones might be cool, but they are used for the dark arts and dark purposes, and will divert attention from the real issue for retail. Our obsession with speed is a red herring, we need to focus on what matters.

Which is the whole customer experience.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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