Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Web Changes Eat Away At Traditional Markets

Change is good, isn't it?
It seems to me that our world in the middle of fundamental changes in how things are bought and sold. I know that seems like the understatement of the century, but I take a bit of time to notice these things.
In past posts I've commented on how the world around us, and the society we live in has been affected by technology. Being a voracious reader, I've even bought books on the subject, trying to get my head around it.

Do we notice it when we live in it?
Can we really comprehend how widespread a change can possibly be, when we're living in the middle of it?
And make no mistake here, we are all in the middle of this, at least in industrialized countries. Otherwise, the global economy wouldn't have had such an immediate and great effect everywhere when it tooks such a major downturn a few years ago!

Remember when buying was different?
Think about this in a more personal, closer to home way. 

Apathy Breeds Entropy, Acrylic
on canvas, by Teresa Young

When we walked through a mall in the eighties, we saw bookstores, music stores, clothing stores, specialty stores of every description possible lined up in the aisles. To go shopping, most of us went to a mall (be it strip or indoor!) and endlessly looked at merchandise, then decided on what we wanted and bought it. Simple as pie.
We could touch it, try it on, try it out, whatever. It seemed like the only way to do things at the time.
The new, shadowy world of buying stuff online was considered risky, and not many people did it. Just Internet geeks who understood how all those unwieldy search engines worked. Nobody else seemed to find it very convenient, and it was a novelty.

There were other things we bought as well, called services. And everyone used a middleman, such as travel agents (in the case of holidays and business trips!) and realtors (in the case of property transactions). We rented objects such as movies and cars from businesses designed to provide services to us. This was a large sector of local economies the world over.

A small thing happened
But I noticed something scary in the nineties.
It started slow, but eventually, everyone noticed it.
Suddenly, it seemed like every music store I'd ever frequented was having a closing out sale. Over a three or four year period, almost all of them went out of business.

Dance, sketch by
Teresa Young.
I couldn't stand it anymore, and I asked the manager of one of my favourites just as he was closing his doors. Apparently, selling music CD's online killed the stores in the malls.  And only one or two international francises figured out what was coming, and moved part of their business to websites, assuring their survival in the coming storm...
Most of us didn't think much of this, at the time. It seemed pretty innocuous.
Just a glitch!
Little did we know, it was actually a sign of things to come for other industries...
The smartest entrepreneurs jumped on the Internet bandwagon and put their goods and services there before you could say 'Chapters', or 'HMV'.

Store after store goes online
It seemed to start with music stores, then bookstores, then most specialty stores. In order to survive, stores needed to get online to reach a wider market base. It made sense, little stores that cover a tiny niche market had low survivability prior to the Internet. They just couldn't reach enough consumers to cover their cost of doing business.

Want something? Google it!
We started to see Internet sites that catered to business sectors that were never widely seen previously. And Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, they all helped the consumer find these little stores.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was born, and people began selling that as a service as well.

Bookface, Acrylic on wood, by
Teresa Young.
Dictionaries and encyclopedias were now found in just about every garage sale. Who needed them? All we had to do was go to the Net and answer our questions quickly and easily.
Mind you, this created a whole new mentality, if we couldn't get what we wanted, be it information or stuff, we lost interest very, very quickly.
Marketing became an even bigger business than before as it modernized with the growth of the Internet.

A Brave New World! (with apologies to writer Aldous Huxley)
We all became quite used to stores being put out of business by online sites, and suddenly it became the way to do business everywhere. This actually wasn't a bad thing, as market reach expanded, the necessity to locate your business in a city declined. Now, many online stores are located in out of the way places, business is decentralizing, leading to the decline of cities as business centres. (Suck it up cities, it's about time, you did the same thing to country based industries and stores years ago!)
It was as if someone gigantic entity had through a huge spiderweb over the Earth, and it connected everything whereever it settled. The global economy became a daily reality.

Then Something Changed
But change isn't a static force, it just keeps burgeoning forward, like some sort of major organic life form gobbling up it's food source.

Surreal Locomotion by Teresa Young
We can never be sure where it started, it was so insiduous, but the first noticeable market casualty was the travel industry.
All of a sudden, Expedia© and Travelocity© were everywhere. Why bother calling a busy travel agent when you can book online? And the deals, no high overhead, remarkable flexibility, travel agents couldn't compete with the scale and convenience.
The travel industry was revolutionized by the advent of online software sites that allowed you to check the data on travel bookings, air flights, hotels, everything to plan your trips with ease. This destroyed the demand for travel agents, and only a small minority of existing travel agents survived the revolution.
This new type of industry focus is now happening in the Real Estate industry, boards that used to control the data of listings within that industry have been forced to downsize as Zillow© and Top Producer© consumer sites eat away at their market share. Large companies are forced to compete with small, online companies that adapt to the changing market more quickly thanks to Internet tools and flexibility of thinking. As it happened in the travel industry, consumers are starting to by-pass real estate agents, the middleman is starting to disappear.
It's starting to hit many industries in turn, art galleries, retails stores of any description, services that require some sort of coordination, these are all becoming transformed into something new and different via the Internet.

Mobile Technology Drives Change Away from Established Websites
Things are moving forward faster and faster, and none of us know where it's going next, as consumers rapidly adapt to tablets and phones as their interface of choice.
Since people are on the go constantly, they interact with websites all the time, and there's a whole new industry dedicated to optimizing for mobile devices, creating apps for download, and getting rid of the extra chaff on a site so the mobile users are attracted to a site and keep coming back.
For instance, on my artist website, two thirds of the traffic through the site is on mobile devices. And this is probably not confined to art websites, but to websites in general.
Speaking of art websites, with the swell of mobile surfing, artsites that get the most hits are the ones that have moved away from flash animations and static pages that don't adjust well to differing mobile screen sizes.
Maybe we all need to rethink our blogs and websites to adapt to a changing world.