• Faces in Places

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The Value of Real



[ photo courtesy ]

Digital technology is ace. The post-digital world is hugely exciting.

But sometimes what you really really want is world 1.0 – physical stuff. Doesn’t need to be internet-enabled, internet-of-things real stuff. Just real see-it and touch-it and take-it-home-with you physical stuff.

Now, I love me some online shopping. Most of the time I’d be happy not to have to schlep round the shops, and the more I can order online the better.

Except when I don’t.

Sometimes you really want goods you can touch and take home with you. And a real person you can talk to.

We all know that certain categories are always going to demand a physical retail presence, no matter how much their online sales may also flourish.

But with a physical store presence comes the assumption that you’ll be able to choose a product, buy it there and then, and take it home with you. Especially if the store in question also has an online presence – if you wanted to get the product delivered, chances are you’d have ordered it online. Obviously within reason: just because John Lewis sells sofas in-store doesn’t mean I expect to take it home with me.

But take electricals. We wanted to buy a telly. Ideally we wanted to choose one in-store and take it home with us there and then.

Except we couldn’t. No matter which big consumer electricals store on the big soulless retail park in Tottenham we went into, not one had a TV we could take home. You could only order for home delivery – and in any case they’d then advise you to go online to make your purchase to get the online-only price. The shop purported to be a shop, but really it was just a physical window to an online store.

So we went home, sans telly, and ordered it online.

On the day it was supposed to be delivered, it was chucking it down with snow. The country had ground to a halt. So understandably, we thought our delivery might be held up or cancelled.

So I thought it would be prudent to call up and find out if the delivery was likely to be affected by the weather. Except that there was no way I could do this. The automated system didn’t want to deal with any queries that didn’t fit into its allocated boxes. There was no way I could actually speak to an actual human being. I even tried the sneaky ‘press 0 to bypass everything and go straight to an operator’ trick, but to no avail. The system was fully automated and tough luck if you had a query that didn’t fit into the questions it was set up to answer.

As it happened, the delivery van arrived and we got our telly. It’s brill. Its HD goodness is fab for games and blu-ray. Lovely stuff.

But buying it wasn’t. Sometimes we just want a physical shop where we can buy what we went in for, instead of having to wait in all day for a delivery which will obviously right at the very end of the delivery slot.

And sometimes you just want a real human being to speak to about a query. Going through an automated system to get there might be a pain in the arse, but as long as you can get to someone who might be able to help you, it’s just about bearable.

Amazon is said to be considering establishing a high street presence, to allow customers to collect bigger items such as TV and PCs rather than have them delivered (along the lines of the totally awesome Argos reserve-and-collect system). Amazon have denied this rumour, but as more and more high-street retailers shift their business online, it can’t be just me that’s missing the retailer of old where you could actually take the goods home with you.

It’s a salutory lesson that although the digital world is fantastic, and all the shiny new opportunities it presents are exciting and open a wealth of doors, it’s crucial for brands not to forget about the importance of physical experiences with real live human beings.

(cross-posted to the WARC blog)

Internet killed the newspaper star?

There’s a lot of hype about how the internet is killing off the print industry. Which there may well be some truth in, if you’re a major newspaper publisher. But there’s also amazing innovation in print which is being fuelled by the internet.

I’m sure the fine folks behind Newspaper Club would agree.

Particularly awesome is how the immediacy of web publishing and democracy of social content sharing is brought to life in print – creating entirely new forms of publishing altogether.

None typifies this more so than the utterly fabulous Strange Light magazine. Over the last few days, a massive dust storm has been sweeping across the south east coast of Australia. It’s pretty bloody strange. Lots of people took some truly fantastic photos, and shared them on Flickr.

And then two days later Strange Light magazine, showcasing some of this beautiful photography in real-life-you-can-actually-touch-it-on-gorgeous-paper-actual-print, was available to buy online via MagCloud, thanks to the enterprising Derek Powazek (and the many photographers who contributed).

From real life, to digital photographs, shared online, curated and created into into a physical product, available to buy online. In under two days. [Update: check out Derek's blog post: How to Publish a Magazine in a Day and a Half.]

Equally impressive is Ketlai’s While We Were Here, a newspaper produced to document the Greenbelt Festival, on site, while the Festival was taking place. Which festivalgoers could contribute to, then read it online, and take home a physical artifact as a souvenir. All within the space of a weekend (albeit with a hell of a lot of pre planning!)

Or Berg’s fantastic The Incidental – a “feedback loop made out of paper and human interactions – timebound, situated and circulating in a place.” An awesome effort, like Ketlai’s While We Were Here, it served as “both service and souvenir”.

The always-perspicacious Roo Reynolds just tweeted a thoroughly astute observation which I think sums this up brilliantly:

As a rather impressive orator told us last year: change is coming.

Print isn’t dead. It’s just changing.