retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There were a couple of New York Times pieces over the weekend that I found instructive, though on the face of it they would seem to be a little contradictory.

The first was a report saying that “two-thirds of Americans stream movies and TV shows in public” and that “according to new data from the video giant Netflix, about 12 percent of Americans who watch television shows or movies outside of the home admit to having done so in a public restroom. And 37 percent say they’ve watched at work.”

What seems clear is this: “As Americans spend more time watching video on computers, smartphones and tablets, media consumption patterns and social customs are shifting.” (Like watching movies in a public bathroom stall. Yuck!)

But the second piece, an opinion column by David Sax, is about how “ the love affair I once enjoyed with digital technology is over — and I know I’m not alone.

“Ten years after the iPhone first swept us off our feet, the growing mistrust of computers in both our personal lives and the greater society we live in is inescapable. This publishing season is flush with books raising alarms about digital technology’s pernicious effects on our lives: what smartphones are doing to our children; how Facebook and Twitter are eroding our democratic institutions; and the economic effects of tech monopolies.”

Sax writes about how analog technologies are in some cases seeing a resurgence - as in the case of print books and vinyl records, both of which are seeing sales increases. “Analog, although more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalents, provides a richness of experience that is unparalleled with anything delivered through a screen. People are buying books because a book engages nearly all of their senses, from the smell of the paper and glue to the sight of the cover design and weight of the pages read, the sound of those sheets turning, and even the subtle taste of the ink on your fingertips. A book can be bought and sold, given and received, and displayed on a shelf for anyone to see. It can start conversations and cultivate romances.

“The limits of analog, which were once seen as a disadvantage, are increasingly one of the benefits people are turning to as a counterweight to the easy manipulation of digital. Though a page of paper is limited by its physical size and the permanence of the ink that marks it, there is a powerful efficiency in that simplicity.”

While these two pieces might be seen as contradictory, what they actually illustrate is that we don’t live in a world of binary choices. (Except maybe in most elections.) The only people who are “wrong,” I would submit, are the people who think that everything is going to be one way or the other - all e-commerce or all bricks-and mortar, all digital books or all printed books, etc…

There always will be a mix, or a balance … though to some degree, as we go through the evolution, at times things will seem unbalanced.

Sax writes about it this way: “We do not face a simple choice of digital or analog. That is the false logic of the binary code that computers are programmed with, which ignores the complexity of life in the real world. Instead, we are faced with a decision of how to strike the right balance between the two. If we keep that in mind, we are taking the first step toward a healthy relationship with all technology, and, most important, one another.”

I agree.

But I would point one thing out, when it comes to retail.

Sax writes that analog experiences can thrive when they provide “a richness of experience that is unparalleled.” Set that down as a challenge to physical retailers … you don’t thrive by being analog, you thrive by being unparalleled.

That’s the Eye-Opener.
KC's View: