Retail Decoded

Meeting in the middle

You’ve probably seen dozens of provocative headlines imploring you to embrace technology, making dire predictions about the survival of your business without it. Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong — businesses of all sizes need to make the most of the digital tools they have available. But it’s equally true that technology providers need you. 

I’ve been in the software business for 20 years, and e-commerce has been heralded as the “next big thing” for just as long. As early as the 90s, vendors were being warned: the competition is one click away — adapt or die! In some cases, these gloomy ultimatums came true. Plenty of seemingly rock-solid businesses have become casualties of the digital era. It’s undeniable that traditional modes of shopping and selling are no longer standalone solutions. However, the underlying principle hasn’t changed: meet your customers where they are. If that’s online, you need to be too. 

Indulge me for a minute with a personal anecdote. Around this time last year, I ordered a spa pool online. It was chilly, the prices were reasonable, and I decided to splurge. I got that great burst of dopamine when I placed the order — you know the one — and started looking forward to delivery. And looking. 

And looking. And looking.

It’s now been an impressive 11 months since I ordered my pool. I got an email the other day that promised delivery next week. I’m not optimistic. Now, I’m confident that there are really good reasons why this has happened. That’s not the issue. We all know that there have been major supply chain disruptions both internationally and domestically, and that people are doing their best in the circumstances. The problem isn’t the delays, it’s the silence. 

With a couple of decent software tools plugged in, the supplier could have automated a series of updates, letting me know what progress was or wasn’t happening. This would have helped me to understand the situation, adjust expectations, and avoid disappointment. Most importantly, it would have saved the time and energy of myself and their support staff following up, creating negative associations with my once-exciting purchase, and turning a pleasure into a cautionary tale. 

This is a situation where tech could have easily solved (or at the very least, minimized) a problem and provided a far better experience. I’d like to help you stop thinking about digital spaces as an optional add-on, or an overwhelming sea of acronyms and symbols, and think of them as a utility, another area to welcome customers into.

Tech has long been insulated by its own necessity. The possibilities we provide are so in-demand that we’ve been able to trust that customers will seek us out and play by our rules, so we haven’t needed to focus too much on communicating with or convincing our market. The mountain has always come to Muhammed.

But software has come a long way from a few keen early adopters. It's everywhere, and for tech businesses, the flood of new users has slowed down as the digital migration process nears completion. It’s time for us to get a bit better at talking to the rest of the world, or we’ll lose out to people with better communication skills. 

At the other end, as business owners and end-users, you have access to an ever-broader and more sophisticated software industry, with more options to become more responsive and engaging to your customers. The way I see it, both sides can benefit from understanding each other better.

So in this column, I’ll aim to dispel some of the fog and fear around software. I won’t use jargon, make assumptions or be dismissive. I’ll attempt to give advice that’s actually practical and plain-spoken. Because technology shouldn’t be a necessary evil, but a solution and an opportunity. Confusion shouldn’t eclipse opportunity, and if we shut the majority out, we’ll miss out on countless opportunities to see how smart people apply our ideas in unexpected and exciting ways.

I’d also like to open the floor for you, the user, to ask your questions. Any topics you’d like an honest take on, I invite you to submit to [spec email address?]. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I’ll do my best to give clear and useful answers, without patronising or assuming. If you’re open to learning, I’m open to sharing. Let’s meet in the middle.

By John-Daniel Trask, Co-Founder/CEO, Raygun