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Food for Thought | embracing physical vs virtual disrupters

Blog post   •   Oct 09, 2018 15:45 GMT

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Over time, the physical and virtual worlds are merging, and whilst virtual disrupters tend to have a slower uptake, particularly for pre-millennials, they are huge game changers and the speed in which they appear and change our everyday lives is unprecedented. From telex and mobile phones to a new type of retail in China, I've seen what’s happened and the prospects for the perishables industry are exciting.

I am at that age that I hear myself talking about the “good old days” with my friends. Indeed, I have become my father's son. In comments that were driven into me as a child, rebuked really, 40 years on I hear myself telling my nieces and nephews “you've never had it so good,” In my day…

I was talking with a colleague the other day about the great disrupters in our lives. Yes, I remember the days when we used a telex machine (apologise for the younger readers who are now searching the internet for what a telex machine is!); painstakingly cutting a tape, then feeding it through a reader so the message could be sent.

Then along came the computerised telex machine. I say computerised, but it was after all a dumb terminal, but hey no more cutting tapes, simply typing a message and pressing the send button.

We embraced this. It was more efficient, it was a physical experience, and something we could see, touch and connect to.

I guess for me the mobile phone was one of the most physical disrupters to change my working day. No more reaching home to find a message from a customer saying that they needed something at the airport, resulting in me traipsing back to the terminal and adding a few more hours to my day.

Despite the interim pager (please google), the mobile phone, although the size of a small planetary system, not only gave my arms a physical workout, I was receiving calls in real time and therefore on more occasions than not resulted in me actioning the problem whilst still in the vicinity of my business.

My mother was so pleased… No more hand written messages of such and such called. Simply, her days as my unofficial PA had become redundant!

Again, the phone was a physical disrupter. We could hold it, we could feel it and it was three-dimensional, yet its disruptive effect was significant. Today, it's not just a phone, it's an enabler for augmented reality.

Now, after swapping various physical inventions, we then moved into the Cloud. You know the thing that everyone talks about but, in truth, the average Jo really doesn't know what it is, where it is. I looked up to the heavens the first time I heard of it… well it's a cloud after all.

What was scary is that I couldn't see it, I couldn't feel it, yet I subscribed for all my digital stuff to be moved to this virtual store room (apologies for the over simplification!). A few years on, it is prevalent, however, this virtual disrupter took a lot longer to be embraced, at least for us “not in the know” category simply because it wasn't something we could physically see or hold.

So where am I going with this?

Well we have all seen wherever we sit in this magical world, the demise of the traditional retail experience – that Saturday morning where my parents would force my brothers and I to do the weekly shop, my father knowing that yes it was going to be one of those journeys filled with him reminding his brood to behave, and for good behavior we could visit Woolworths and indulge in the revolutionary “Pick and Mix”, all of us given 10 pence to grab our moment of childhood heaven.

Now for most of us the “virtual store” of ecommerce touches our lives, for some more than others. No need to travel, but relax, grab your drink of choice (apparently I am a tea alcoholic, which I refute, yet my wife shows me at the end of each day the discarded tea bags, so in this case the physical evidence, leaves me know where to hide!), search for the items of choice on the internet and simply press a button. If ordered before a certain time, by magic those purchases are winging their way to me within a few hours, how fantastic is that?

In my world, my wife doesn't have to drag me round a supermarket, and hear every time when we reach the fruit and veg section, how many tonnes come from here, or we handled that etc. etc. Yep, again I have reached that age where I need to ramble on about trivia in many people's eyes, about an apple, how its grown, where it's from, who produces the largest volume and so on… Actually, often I even feel myself drifting off to sleep (get a hobby!).

The reality is that we are going to see more and more virtual stores popping up. We can't physically see them, we can't physically visit them, and more importantly we can't physically touch the merchandise. The result is a slower uptake, it clearly is and will be a disrupter and overtime it will become the norm, especially in the world of perishables.

I myself embrace it, although we have a family divide – my partner prefers to see, touch and feel, as an example that apple. But does she, like most of us know exactly if the physical experience makes that apple better than the virtual?

A new kind of retail

Growers, retailers, and logistic providers are making progress, and for sure if they are going to win the battle over the physical vs virtual then it's a given that the virtual online apple has to be delivered in a premium condition. And I will stick my neck out in most cases is in better condition than the regular consumer picking one up from the local store. Why? Because they want us to return, it's a repeat, return model, and first experiences count.

But hey, look at what Alibaba is doing with retail in China. They might be onto something here:

Over time, the physical and virtual worlds will merge, and whilst virtual disrupters tend to have a slower uptake, particularly for the pre-millennials, they are huge game changers, and the speed in which they appear and change our everyday lives is unprecedented.

For some us, as we go through our finer years, never has there been such a speed of change, our lives in the virtual world are more dynamic. Me, I embrace it, yes I still moan sometimes that the old times were better, but technology has carved out the person I am today, and continues to do so, maybe just a bit slower than the average teenager!

Link to original article on LinkedIn