9 March 2012

Case Study: Woolworths Supermarket's new App - thinking distributed

Note, for UK readers: Australian Woolworths isn't quite the same as the now closed UK Store of the same name. Rather than a purveyor of cheap crap, its a supermarket and one that heads more towards quality then affordability (not that its expensive, you understand), but its Veg is better than any of the supermarkets that I've found in my 8 weeks of being here.

Woolies recently launched their new smart phone ap, and in doing so revealed their understanding of the post-internet consumer and demonstrate their ability to re-imagine their business not just as a supermarket but as a key part of the eating experience, as a platform upon which meals are built.

Check out the promo video before I share some thoughts...

The app is built around the promise of you doing your shopping when you want, and about making it easier for you to interact with their physical stores should you opt to go into them. Or, if thinking about things from the perspective of Jeff Jarvis' rules outline in his book What Would Google Do, then they are seeking to tick off the following boxes:
- Think Distributed (find ways to go to your customers, rather than make them come to you)
- Get out the way (make things as simple for customers as possible)
- Speed is Key (the internet and Google search has made customers want things NOW!)

They understand that, for example, after finishing work you might be sat on the tram, thinking about dinner. You can use this journey time to choose a recipe for dinner and create an aisle based list for your local store so you can hop of the tram, quickly dash in, grab your stuff and go home and cook it. Woolies are aiming to save you time, make your life easier. Or they understand that you aren't always at home on the computer when you want to order your shopping online. You might want to build your shopping list over 5 days as you use things, plan events, run out of things or just have ideas. Its about providing organization to the process of food shopping, to make it easier for you, the individual, to buy what you want to eat.

Why is this interesting?
Because, in Jarvis' words, "atoms are a drag". Because the internet has changed the way people interact and behave, and even think, and whilst online business have been quick to adapt to this and serve the Customer 2.0, the physical world is lacking. Because atoms, or "stuff" gets in the way. Things like stock cost, buildings, rent, staff, inventory, waste, warehousing, dead stock and many more. The lessons from the digital world have to filter into the physical world for it to keep up, and for shoppers to continue to use physical stores. There is no escaping it. But figuring out how to do it is hard. Not least because most physical stores and businesses are run by the old generation, brought up before the internet revolution and as such are not aware of the changing mindset of the people they sell to, even if they themselves have changed the way they shop.

Ultimately I write this post to commend Woolworths, for stepping out to embrace the consumer 2.0. Its a good sign, that physical stores can do things to become more internet friendly and more usable, less self centred.

However this app isn't perfect.
Woolworths can, and should, go further. Let customers upload their recipes to the system and review others. Make the app, and their site (which should link to it in the future if they are smart and the FAQ on their site is to be believed) into a network for people to share, to become a community and discuss, rate,  review and suggest recipes people could and should cook. Let this app become a resource and a platform, upon which other can build their business model. Let professional chefs upload content to inspire, let people build up knowledge for the collective good of everybody. Woolworths would be the bedrock of a national community of food lovers. Food is about conversation, thats what you do when you share dinner with friends or family; Woolworths should recognise this and turn their distributed platform for sales into a network for a mass of niches. It would build their brand, they would undoubtedly grow sales, but it could also open up new avenues for generating revenue further down the line, such as targeted advertising.

If theis is a first step its huge. The next ones aren't so big, there is no reason Woolworths (and others) shouldn't take it. There are huge rewards to reap. 

4 March 2012

New Look

I'm pleased to say I've (finally) updated the look of this here blog. Less Lo-Fi-Teenage scribble, more, um, simple....

...now settled in my new Home of Fitzroy, Melbourne, Oz I will be getting back to updating this blog and writing in general more frequently. So stay tuned. 

2 March 2012

Balance: The rise of nature in the post-internet age.

The love of technology in the young, western, post-“net” generation is an obvious observation. We, those brought up in the World 2.0 (the world after the spread of the internet, where Google rather than government dominates public thought), readily accept and, to some extent demand technology. How many people under 30 own some form of smart phone, a tablet, have a Facebook account, use Google maps to locate things, turn to Wikipedia for insight into unfamiliar topics and use internet search to empower their lives? Most people, probably. We readily accept a newly public life, a life of managing abundance, of ever growing freedom. Yet never has nature been so “on trend”. Whether its uber cool out-doors company Poler or the rise in cycling obviously exemplified by blogs such as Prolly or the “outdoorsy” feel to contemporary men’s fashion as with the current collection at Present in London or on musicians cover art such as emerging talent Visions of Trees we romanticise and fantasise about nature.


Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Or Zen, or whatever you want to call it, the notion of balance has never before been so easily visually recognisable. The growth in technological advancements, and the hierarchical equalization between the physical and the virtual world has brought about an unexpected yurning for the natural, for the green.

The future landscape depicted in pre-internet sci-fi such as Moonbase Alpha in space 1999 – pictured above – aren’t futures we want to inhabit. The drive for carbon neutral companies and organic produce would suggest that our future should be green. The better that cameras and CGI gets the more we want to watch David Attenborough talk about the Natural World. Viewership and downloads of programmes like the recent Frozen Planet are huge. The young and the trendy stay home from bars to indulge in luscious TV shows (usually watched online) about animals and plants. It fascinates us, natural beauty. The more we are able to leave nature behind the more we want to save it. We want to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and explore Alaska. The internet, and mobile devises that utilise it, enable us to remain connected to everything from nearly anywhere. That adventure you dreamed of is no longer impossible. Technology will get you there, help you navigate and survive, it will save if you if in trouble and still keep you up to date with the special offers of the supermarket closest your home-town. The internet has flattened cultural differences, we want to see the things that we don’t have close to home, we want to see the wild, because it is different, because our international friends and colleagues make us curious about things that aren’t on our doorstep, that the internet cannot adequately manifest for us.

There is another possible reason too. With the internet making social relations easier and fairer, making shopping simpler and cheaper, making music easily accessible and providing more knowledge then a library, the real world of 20 years ago - dominated by physical spaces - is becoming dull. When you can discover anything from your armchair, even from your phone, the joys of cities could be diminishing. Why go to a museum when you can see and learn more about the ancient world from Wikipedia. Why go to the mall when you can go on Google and find what you want in less time and at a lower price and have it delivered to your door? What the internet can’t offer is the feel of the wind or smell of rain on hot concrete. Nature is in some ways everything Technology isn’t. Its wild, and we love it….