Abandoned

Take a second and imagine going to a store near you.  I’m talking bricks and mortar, so think of your favourite local shop or a big retail outlet.  Imagine you pull into the parking lot and hop out of your sweet ride.

As you walk up to the door, the automatic sliders part like the red sea to greet you.

You grab a cart or a basket, and hear to the soft easy listening music piping through the speakers.  You casually stroll the aisles, browsing products.  A friendly store employee looks your way and smiles.

You see something you need, so you throw it in the cart.  You grab another product off the shelf that you’ve heard of and would like to try.  Another product in a nice looking package jumps off the shelf.  You are humming along to the soft music.

Now imagine this:

You stop dead in your tracks. You take your hands off your cart, turn around and walk directly towards the exit.  You’ve left your product sitting in your cart, abandoned in the middle of the aisle.

Nobody loves me

Weird, right? 🤔

It may even feel uncomfortable to imagine.  Consumerism is a cornerstone of our modern culture.  By going shopping, you’re participating in a normal cultural activity.  That activity has unwritten norms and rules.  As you step into that store, you are upholding a sort of social contract.  The entire system of people and capital that exist to put those products on the shelves for you.

Your responsibility is to buy SOMETHING.

A long time ago we figured out how to manufacture way more crap than we actually need.  The shopping has since been promoted, designed and refined to drive you to make a purchase.  Once you are through those doors, there’s a very high probability that you will do just that.  There’s a very low chance you will abandon your cart.

This was just normal culture until the late 90s when along came eCommerce.  Faster, more selection, more competition (cheaper), and generally just an easier experience.  ECommerce was potential was consumer culture on steroids.  You could shop from anywhere you had internet access, and buying online gave a ton of advantages.  For retailers, the reduced operating cost and overhead seemed like a win, enabling cheaper prices and fatter margins.  So in the first dot com boom in the early 90s, there were a TON of eCommerce sites set up.  They were all positioning themselves to reduce traditional bricks and mortar retailers to rubble.

Muwhahaha!

But why did so many of those early eCommerce businesses fail?  Among many reasons for early failures was one that stands out to me – abandoned carts.

Sure, people showed up to shop online because of all the ease and new benefits, but at the same time none of those cultural cues, the ones embedded in the bricks and mortar shopping experience were there to close the sale.  There was nothing working to ensure you always made a purchase.  They environment around you wasn’t enforcing cultural compliance.  There was all the benefit to buying, but none of the consequences of walking out.  Oh and returns?  None of the shame of bringing an item back to the store.  No admitting that YOU made a mistake, and no pleading for your money back.

Love them or hate them, Amazon figured out this differential element very early on.  They knew that they could only control the shopping experience on the screen and nothing else.  They knew that every additional step a consumer had to go through to finalize a purchase increased the chance that they would abandon the effort.  It was this early understanding that enabled Amazon to make massive strides against their competition.  It’s also why they filed for (and were granted) the patent for One Click Checkout in 1999.

It’s no surprise that almost exactly when that patent expired in 2017, Shopify, one of the largest eCommerce enablement platforms, launched ShopPay, a version of one click checkout that store owners could enable on their sites.

A relentless focus on conversion rates has become the norm in the eCommerce business, but an early understanding of the cultural and experiential difference between in person shopping and online shopping is what helped make Amazon so successful.

Like I said in this post about the legendary Ned Ludd, we’re still in the middle of a technology fuelled, monster culture shift.  There are many ways to combine an understanding of a) modern tools, b) the nature of individuals and c) the culture of groups to create incredible new things, and I believe the opportunity to have the vision and create success like Amazon did is still possible.

Now go figure it out and make something awesome.

Go VARK Yourself

In 1987, Neil Fleming, a teacher from New Zealand 🐑  invented the VARK model, which breaks learning preferences into 4 general categories;

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Reading (and writing)
  • Kinesthetic (hands-on)

In my last post about a guy named Ned, I pointed out the convergence and mass adoption of three technologies over a very short period of time that I believe have, and will continue to materially change our culture.

As a tribute to Neil, I created an info graphic that visually explains what I was writing about:

For Neil and Ned, and anyone who is a V learner.

I make a few suggestions at the end of that last post around how to start thinking and acting in ways that will get you to the other side of this culture change without ending up like a dinosaur stuck in a tar pit.

Poor Hyp never had a chance

But I’d like to go a bit deeper, and before I do that I’m going to need us to agree that the change that’s happened in the last 10 to 15 years boils down to this:

WE HAVE GONE FROM

Few people

have

limited access

to

small amounts of information

TO

Everyone

has

immediate access

to a

massive amount of information

Listen, if we can’t agree on this I kindly suggest you stop reading this now, remove me from your contact list, and go directly to this website.

Still here?  Great.

I could go on extensively about all the different ways to look at the above, but let’s start with one simple way: the emotional effect of information transfer.  Imagine any one person posting or sending information, and any other person receiving or consuming it.  Consider just the recipient, are they getting information that;

  • they wanted to know?
  • they didn’t want to know?
  • they didn’t know they wanted to know?
  • they didn’t know they didn’t want to know?
  • is a true thing they felt was true?
  • is a true thing they felt was false?
  • is a false thing they felt was true?
  • is a false things they felt was false?

Now swap the recipient to someone else.  Is the information received and interpreted the same way?

When we think about the technology of smartphones and internet, we tend to focus on the transfer of arbitrary ones and zeros, but it’s the emotional effects of the information transfer has increased about a billion fold.  Never mind what’s actually factually true on the internet, what’s important is how it’s effecting people as irrational, emotional beings.  This is the root of the cultural impact on our society, and it’s what has caused such an uptick in human volatility.

If you think about smartphones, the internet and their effect on our culture, this is an important foundational component. It’s why videos go viral, it’s why there are individual YouTube channels and Instagram accounts with tens of millions of subscribers.  On the internet it’s emotive content, regardless of the emotion it elicits, that has been winning eyeballs.  So think about this when you think about the cultural impact.  Think about it when you think about young kids being born into a world with the internet and cell phones and how it will effect their lives.  Think about it, because if you think that being able to check your bank balance on your smartphone is the extent of the cultural change, you are 100% wrong.

Don’t Be Like Ned

Nobody is sure if Ned Ludd was a real person, but in his time, he achieved legit legend status.

He made his mark sometime between the late 1700s to early 1800s, at a time when monster technological advances in steam power and tools enabled the creation of machines, factories and modern industry.

While fortunes were being made by industrial entrepreneurs, Ludd, who was an old school, stay at home weaver, watched as weaving machines took his job and ultimately his livelihood. Legend has it that in a fit of frustrated passion, Ned smashed the shit out of a couple of mechanical knitting machines, aka his competition.

This story spread amongst the disgruntled weavers of jolly old England, who were also all being out woven by machines. So, inspired by Ned Ludd, these self proclaimed “Luddites” took it upon themselves to merrily smash as many mechanical weavers as possible, Project Mayhem style.

The Luddites are an interesting phenomenon of a unique time in history. The industrial revolution was culture change fuelled by a convergence of technologies that happened super fast.  So much changed about the way people lived (or could live) that depending on who you were, and how you saw the world, I can only imagine that it would have been either terribly unsettling or downright inspirational.

I think we’re in the middle of a similar period today, so I’m going to tell why and what to do about it.

Let’s start with three converging indicators:

Indicator 1: Internet Usage

World internet usage before 1996 was basically zero.  As a technology it had been around since the early 80s, but hadn’t really taken hold.  Even though people went a little bonkers for internet stocks in the late 90s, true usage on a world scale was only around 20% by the mid 2000s.  But as of 2016, 46% of the entire population of the world was using the internet. This isn’t just the first world, it’s the WHOLE WORLD.

In just 10 years, global internet usage skyrocketed:

Errbody got that internet

Indicator 2: Cellular Network Usage

Next in the holy tech trinity is cell phone and cell network usage, which as a technology that has been around a long time.

Hello, 1973, I’m the brick. Install me in your convertible and get all the attention.

But real cell phone usage didn’t pickup until the late 90s, and on a global scale it was still statistically near zero in 1995.

But, by 2015 there was almost 1:1 ratio of mobile cellular subscriptions to people in the WHOLE WORLD.

That’s a massive adoption rate globally.

Indicator 3: Smartphone Usage

Here’s the clincher – as of 2020, it’s estimated that 78% of the global population had a smartphone subscription.  That’s not just developed countries, or North America, that’s the WHOLE WORLD.

This kid has 10 million followers on Instagram

The iPhone, which is the gold standard of smartphone, wasn’t even launched until 2007, and in 2006, only 64 million smartphones were shipped globally (sounds like a lot, but less than 1% of the population getting a smartphone).

Again, 10 years and boom, smartphone usage goes from non-existent to freaking everyone.

Ladies and gents, I give you mass technological adoption of three converging technologies over a staggeringly short period of time in history.

While this may not be news to you, what’s important to understand is that this really disrupts culture.  Proof of this disruption, in my opinion, is the amount of volatility in the world.  I’m not talking just financial volatility, I’m talking more human volatility. So many people seem to be unsettled, unstable, or just hanging on, while others are doing unbelievable and seemingly revolutionary things.

I’m concerned for that first group of unsettled people, because their frustration can manifest in unproductive ways (like Ned and is pals) .  It’s the unfortunate price we pay for fast paced technological change. At the same time I see unbelievable opportunity to create new and better things and ways of doing things that will improve our lives, and I’m inspired by those actually going out and making change happen (just like those early industrialists).

Who has two thumbs and is impressive as f&%k? This guy.

Cultural norms and rules will slowly cement themselves in place as the people who were born into the internet/smartphone world become the majority of the adult population.  The volatility will subside, and in 50 years there will be very few people still alive who lived in the world before the mass adoption and use of the internet and smartphones.

Assuming I keep eating my vegetables and achieve slightly above average life expectancy, in my later days I will be in a small minority of people alive who remember a pre-internet/smartphone world.

“I remember the days before the internet, but I can’t tell you the last time I had an erection”

But 50 years is a long time from now, so what do you do in the mean time?

If you want to get through this cultural change, create success in a new context, and lead others through it, it’s not just about understanding the tools, but it’s about understanding their effect on both our physiological selves (as mildly evolved cave people), and the foundational elements of our current culture.

Just think…

Why do some people still get all their news from CNN or one newspaper, others crowd source it from Twitter, and some consume no traditional “news” at all? 

Why are many families sitting around their house, physically together, but with their heads in their phones, while many tech CEOs very strictly don’t let their kids near smartphones? 

Why are established businesses having a hell of a time attracting and retaining younger employees, while companies like Tesla have 500,000 applications for 2500 job openings? 

There are a million questions worth digging into where the answers are a function of this techno cultural change.

So the first and most important thing to do is really test as many assumptions about the rules of our culture as you can.  Ask “why do we/I do it that way” more often than you think it’s appropriate, and especially on topics that make you feel uncomfortable. The second thing you can do is start to really understand the tools not just by using them, but also by looking under the hood and learning how they actually work.  All technology has abilities and limitations, and it’s important to understand what a particular tech does well and doesn’t.

I’ll admit that I sometimes feel frustration like I imagine the Luddites did.  I’m old enough that I had already found a lot of comfort in the culture of the pre-internet world, it’s how I grew up into my teens and early 20s, and it’s the foundation of how I relate to my peers and older generations.  Challenging this foundation of how I see the world can be very difficult, but I aspire to act like those early industrialists, because while I’m sure it felt good to permanently tune up a weaver with the business end of a pitchfork, the machine smashing efforts of the Luddites didn’t manage to stop the industrial revolution.