retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It’s hard to argue with the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. But maybe it’s time for a new corollary: Covid and technology are the parents of innovation. If nothing else, it’s certainly cause for a shotgun wedding.

Thanks to Covid our lives are suddenly full of new ways to do a wide array of things. It’s hard to believe that Zoom became so essential in just one year and that’s only the most obvious example. Think of all the ways you and your families utilize technology for simple tasks that 13 months ago you did in person.

And if you have any notion that this is going to stop, just think of Ted. 

Ted, as the Washington Post recently reported, may herald an entirely new way of attending all manner of performing arts.  It probably is important to accept the likelihood that this kind of technology will not stop there.

As a quick explanation, Ted is basically a mannequin minus some key body parts. But as the article explains, Ted is being used as a virtual audience for the Detroit Symphony, allowing patrons to attend socially distanced concerts through virtual reality devices.

If you haven’t tried virtual reality the experience is, in short, amazing. As the article describes, you can purchase a VR devices with prices ranging from the hundreds to just a few bucks. I have experienced the low end of the spectrum thanks to a cheap cardboard device and was blown away by it. Once in the world of VR, I could look around, move and slightly interact with the “experience” as if I were there.

What Ted and the Detroit Symphony demonstrate is some of the economic possibilities of these devices, and that should catch your attention. As the author explains, thanks to Ted a concert audience that was once limited to the number of seats in the theater could now conceivably hold a limitless crowd, or certainly one in the thousands.

It’s hard to know whether classical music concerts can dream of filling Dodger Stadium this way (I have to hope, as my son is a classical musician) but the possibilities are endless.

And that’s why traditional businesses need contemplate the impact of this. As Covid has shown us, a lot of traditional experiences can become virtual by necessity. But honestly, they lack so much thanks to the two dimensional limitations of technology today. Virtual reality changes all of that.

As I have written before, a recent report from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (for  which I am the research director) examined the future shopping experience and how technology may create incredible enhancements.  Thanks to virtual reality or augmented reality shoppers could encounter famous chefs in the aisles who could help guide them to key ingredients for new recipes. Or perhaps they could visit farms to get a better sense of where and who are growing their products.

If that sounds far fetched just remember how many people played Pokemon Go, a wildly popular augmented reality game, four years ago. As Ted and the Detroit Symphony demonstrate, technological advances combined with changed consumer needs have taken this entire conversation to a new level.

As always, it’s simply a matter of time until future possibilities become today’s expectations. That’s reality, virtual, augmented or otherwise.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.