Windward Insider Blog

Retail used to be so easy½

Back in the old days, if there was something you needed, you'd go to the cave next door or venture out into the great savannah. Now a days it's a bit more complicated. However, according to the late great theorist Marshall McLuhan, there are a few ways we can penetrate the complexity of new things in our lives by examining them using his "Tetrad of Media Effects." In brief, before introducing a new piece of technology, ask yourself how your business will change. For instance, say you were considering some new piece of technology for your store. It could be a computer or bar code scanner; it could be something on the cutting edge (this week!) like Squareup or Near Field Communication. As a thought experiment; ask yourself how the technology will affect you. What does the new medium do to enhance your business or business practices or procedures? What the new technology will make obsolete? What it will retrieve from obsolescence (bring back from an earlier time)? Lastly (the tough question) what does the new technology become when pushed to extremes? Think about bar codes for example. They seem like a great idea, everyone is using them, it must be easy. Well so thinks the Farmers Market home goods vendor who has decided to open a store in the shopping mall. Let's quickly examine a few of the implications of that decisions using McLuhan's tetrad. What will introducing bar codes do to enhance the business? Well, it'll be easier to sell, the price is on it, scan it, bag it, take the money. What is made obsolete? Well perhaps you! Now you can get someone else to sell your stuff while you buy or make it. What will it retrieve from obsolescence? This could be any number of things but many people claim, once bar codes are fully implemented, they have a lot more time to deal with other things; you can reclaim some time! Larger businesses have found that they, once again, have a handle on what they have in stock. Lastly ask what barcodes become when pushed to extremes? For instance who foresaw that receiving documents could be scanned into computers or that consumers would be using their smart phones to scan little unintelligible squares and learn about products and prices. After you thought about one aspect, start again and look at what processes and procedure are affected by barcodes. McLuhan's message is just as important today and not just as a side note for people in all businesses and their personal lives. Who could predict the successes of Amazon and ebay or FACEBOOK, Twitter, and Google? Now ask yourself those 4 questions about retail, about changes in technology you are considering, or whatever.

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