Technology evangelists have long pitched a near-future utopian life where robots, sensors, apps and artificial intelligence would alter human existence overwhelmingly for the better. Owing to widespread lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, many in the developed world got a taste of that brave new life, as futuristic technologies like remote video conferencing, technology-assisted workouts, podcasts and streaming videos went from niche to commonplace.
However, what actually ensued was a renewed passion for analog, argues bestselling author and commentator David Sax, our esteemed guest on a recent episode of Double Take. This emerging phenomenon, as Sax explains, has far-reaching implications for companies selling consumer goods and services in a post-pandemic world.
All the pundits on CNBC and the business press and wherever are saying, ‘This is it. This is the new normal. No one’s going back to school, no one’s going back to an office. E-commerce is going to completely jump from, I don’t know, 12% to 100% of all sales’…And I was sort of sitting there over those weeks and months and saying, ‘Well, hold on. Is that the case? Is this the new normal?’ Because as soon as we saw measures, restrictions moving away, people began going back to restaurants, going back to stores. There were lineups around the corner to get into TJ Maxx and record stores and bookstores and these sorts of things. Nobody was rushing to put their kids back into virtual school.David Sax, award-winning author, journalist and keynote speaker
Sax detected the reemergence of a countervailing trend he had first observed when the earliest smartphones and music streaming services were unveiled—the gravitation of younger consumers to analog goods such as record players and film cameras.
People desired something other than the ubiquitous, fast, cheap, almost free digital goods and services that were in the palm of their hand now. And they often wanted it in concert. They wanted the two of them. They wanted to be able to stream any song anywhere, but they still wanted to be able to go to a record store and buy a piece of melted plastic for 30 bucks that had a Taylor Swift album on it. And that contradiction is really something that people had a hard time wrapping their heads around, and that’s what I tried to unpack.David Sax
According to Sax, this duality conflicted with the direction of travel for companies that had fully pivoted to digital in the earliest days of the pandemic. In Sax’s view, this post-pandemic mix in demand is particularly challenging for e-commerce consumer companies and retailers.
It defies that simplistic narrative that everything will be online, or online is going to die and everything will be in stores. It’s like, people want it all, and the companies and the markets are like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We need to know which one you want. We’re trying to invest in the future, and so we need to know, are you going 100% e-commerce or 100% bricks?’ And it’s like, ‘Nah, we kind of want both.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, okay. That’s double the investment we have to make in the services we’re offering. How are we going to do it?’ It’s like, ‘I don’t know, figure it out. I got to go buy a cantaloupe at the store, but I’m also ordering electrical parts for my renovation from some distributor in Kentucky. So, I mean, figure it out.’David Sax
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