Raise your hand if you’re familiar with Metcalf’s Law. Anyone? According to noted futurist Michael Rogers, Metcalf’s Law — the
value of a network grows as a square of the
people connected to the network — is essential in understanding the future of business in our increasingly connected world.
So what does that mean to the average
person? It means that change is happening on a larger scale and faster than ever
before. Think back to 2006 — not even a
decade ago — when Facebook had 50,000
users exclusively at U.S. universities
(compared to today’s 1. 3 billion global users), “experts” were dooming You Tube to
certain demise because of copyright issues, the iPhone didn’t exist and the price
of a 24-inch LCD TV started at $3,000 —
if you could find one. Sounds like a much
different world, doesn’t it?
“We are just at the beginning of the
virtualization of America and the world,”
Rogers told a standing-room-only crowd
during his Technology Edge “Future of
Retail Technology” presentation. “How
we shop, work and meet our mates is go-
ing into the cybersphere. We are building
an entire layer of virtual software and
information that sits ‘on top’ of the real
world, and the companies that will win
are those that figure out how to connect
the virtual and real worlds.”
Rogers cautioned that although the
convenience and fuel retailing indus-
try is a well-established business, any
industry can be disrupted by the better
use of technology. He cited examples of
Uber’s effect on the taxi industry and
Airbnb’s impact on the hotel industry.
But how could this inevitable disruption — and its accompanying risks and
opportunities — affect the convenience
retailing industry? According to Rogers, the mobile payments arena is ripe
for change, as we’re already seeing with
the recent launch of Apple Pay. He described the current state of mobile payments as “the biggest mess,” due largely
to a lack of standardization. This is not
entirely unexpected, he said, describing an “American approach” that allows
companies to battle it out in the marketplace before settling on a standard.
The downside to this, of course, is that
billions of dollars are invested in technologies that are never widely adopted.
Additionally, “when consumers are
faced with too many choices, they’ll
pick none of them.” However, because
there is the potential to make money
from mobile payments, Rogers predicted exponential growth in the coming
years, although it may not be smooth for
consumers or merchants.
As the world becomes more virtual-ized and more networked, it introduces
opportunities to market to consumers
with technologies that may seem more
sci-fi than 7-Eleven. For example, Rogers predicted that by the 2020, digital
signage would be so omnipresent that it
Practical futurist Michael Rogers shares a vision of the virtual and networked retail landscape.
may be cheaper than paying for printed
signs. This new generation of “smart”
signs will be able to “look out” at and
identify consumers by using simple
forms of facial recognition software
— male, female, dressed for business,
dressed for exercise — and advertise
specifically to that individual.
Rogers also used the example of Goo-gle’s self-driving car. While that may
still be far off, networked cars are coming down the road much sooner (Audi
plans to launch its version in 2017).
These cars will have the ability to communicate with other cars and with infrastructure such as bridges and traffic
lights. It’s a logical extension to bring
retail information into that network, so
cars would be able to communicate with
retail locations and make them “a complete extension of the retail environment,” he said. “The car knows where
it is, it knows where you stop for coffee
every morning and it knows how long
travel takes. So why couldn’t your car
call in your usual order ahead of time?”
For all of these technologies, “ease of
use will be crucial,” said Rogers, circling
back to the importance of developing
— and consistently using — standards.
And while all industries are focused on
Millennials, the “post-Millennial” cohort — future consumers who are still in
elementary school — could be the group
that will truly decide how these new
technologies are accepted and used.
Rogers also acknowledged the inherent skepticism that arises when some of
these “Big Brother-like” virtual technologies are introduced. “It’s important to
ask the question, ‘ When are we defending real human and business values and
when are we just being old fogeys?’”
Jennifer Lipner is the NACS director
of digital content. She can be reached at
THE FUTURE IS NOW