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Shel Israel: How Technology Is Changing the Buyer-Seller Relationship

Are you ready? Is your company ready? Technology is drastically changing the buyer-seller relationship and your survival could depend on just how proactive your business is. In today’s post, I catch up with Shel Israel, co-author of The Age of Context to get an update on how technology has developed in the year and a half since the book’s release. 

Shel Israel

Shel Israel

MacLean: First off, what project are you working on now that has you really excited?

IsraelI am working on a book that is intended to serve as a sequel to The Age of Context. In that book, Robert Scoble and I looked at the technologists. In this new book I am looking more at how businesses are using contextual technologies.

The book also examines how this technology is shifting power from the seller to the buyer through social media, reviews and star ratings.

MacLean: In The Age of Context you and Robert Scoble focused on wearable technology or wearable computing. A lot has transpired since then, what is your take on where we are headed? Was Google Glass just ahead of its time? Keeping in mind that Apple just launched their watch.

Israel:  In the short time since The Age of Context was published, a great deal has happened. The new era is becoming a reality far faster than I had imagined. In my new book, my attention expands from just those who are making new world-changing technology to those who are adopting it in existing businesses to enhance customer experiences.

This is a new era and there will be a great many experiments. We pioneer the future by trying and failing. One of the grandest and most visionary experiments so far is Google Glass. In itself, Glass was no success. But it has already spawned vertical apps that will endure. For example digital eye-wear is being used in surgery, where a remote expert can help a less experienced local practitioner. Elite auto brands such as Ferrari are using digital eye-wear to let factory experts assist local mechanics worldwide. A blind athlete named Lex Gillette has adapted Google Glass into his artificial eyes so that he can live-stream his races to handicapped children’s classrooms in real time, where kids see precisely what he sees in real time.

There will be more. Issues such as apps, battery, tethering to the phone, will be resolved either by Google or some other company who will owe its success to Google’s spectacularly brilliant first-round failure.

MacLean: It seems to follow that sensor data and sensor technology continues to be growing like crazy. There is so much potential. What is your take on where things are headed in this area? Have there been any surprises for you since the book has come out?

IsraelRobert and I now fold sensors into the larger category of the Internet of Things. This area is experiencing exponential growth. My focus has been in places where customer experience is being enhanced in retail: malls, department stores, stadiums, airports, concert halls, etc.

This is important to merchants.  For 20 years online retail has been sucking customers out of stores, and onto web sites. Now, the stores are using contextual technologies to enhance the customer experience at every touch point from, in-store mapping, to personalized text discount offers, to mobile apps that lock-and-unlock dressing room doors, knowing which customer can be allowed access. 

The surprise with sensors is not the devices themselves, which are simple little things that notice change and signal the change elsewhere, usually into the cloud. The real action is in the massive adoption we are seeing in proximity platforms such as Beacons, NewAer Proximity Platform and the hopes of Qualcomm LTE Direct which will be released in 2016 where Wi-Fi will replace Bluetooth, thus vastly expanding range and direct communications.

MacLean: Social media and social networking continues to thrive, but there have been some negatives. Do you think that people will begin to pull back a bit from social media, particularly in light of privacy concerns and/or data mining?

IsraelActually, I see the opposite.

Social media has become a mature platform. Those exciting days when large brands allowed real people to speak as humans from a brand blog or Twitter account has sadly diminished. Social Voices like Scott Monty at Ford, Richard Binhammer at Dell and Frank Eliason at Comcast are no more.

But the amazing phenomenon is that brand marketers have lost their control in social media because they could not learn how to converse as peers with customers. So now people use social media to talk with each other; our friends and previous customers influence much of what we buy, where we eat, what we watch and listen to. Customers do this in social media, on social networks in customer reviews, in star ratings of Uber and Lyft mobile apps. The brands are diminishing in exercising control over influence and message. There is a power shift that is diminishing the brands and elevating the customers. This is fundamental and wonderful in my view.

As for privacy, I have been researching Millennials a lot in recent months for the new book. They are far more concerned about the quality of their experiences, than their personal privacy. They see it more as transaction where they will volunteer personal data in exchange for a better customer experience online or in stores. There are now more Millennials in the marketplace than aging Boomers like me. 

Privacy is becoming less of an issue. What is replacing it is a sense of transaction: I will let you know who I am, where I am and what I want. In return for that, you will make my shopping/buying experience easier than ever before. If you want to put offers in front of me, that’s fine, just as long as they are personalized based on what I am interested in.

Marketers need to stop talking and start listening. [Heh, I’ve been saying that for ten years-but I guess they aren’t listening]. People tell marketers everything the need to know voluntarily on social networks already. We announce when are planning a vacation, a night out  at a restaurant or for entertainment over a billion  times every week on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. It is public and there for the culling by any marketer who cares to pay attention or understands how to search unstructured data.

All marketers have to do to make more money and profits and improve customer relationships and acquisition, is to pay attention to what customers are saying online, and in public. 

MacLean: Naturally you can’t speak of, or think of, social media and privacy without thinking about location data. Do you think that the concern around privacy might impact app development in this area? Or, are the apps just so cool and useful that people will accept the risk?

Israel: I think the shock and outrage related to personal data is subsiding. I think most people understand what is going on and have decided the upside of what this technology can do is worth the cost-because the apps improve the user/customer experience.

Yes, the apps are so cool. However, users have more choices than ever before, and they will have even more choices for at least the next few years.  They will choose the apps and merchants who give them the best experiences for the loss of their personal data. They also will prefer doing business with companies that allow them a few filtering options, as well as the right to correct wrong data and the ability to opt out during private moments.

MacLean: What impact do you think all of this has on business? Are businesses really leveraging technology and data the way they could be, or still in a wait and see mode?

IsraelAll this is new stuff in a new age, one in which users have far more control than has previously been possible.  For tangible retail, and other customer-facing businesses, this is a new hope. As mentioned we have witnessed online technologies for the last 20 years sucking customers out of the stores. Now with contextual technologies, particularly mobile apps, and proximity platforms such as Beacons, etc. they are modernizing the experiences in malls, stores, stadiums, airplane terminals, and concert halls.

Merchants are using this stuff in new ways, some of it is a bit clumsy, but there are other experiments that show great promise, such as smart mannequins that know when a loyalty program enrollee is interested in an item and wants to try it on. It can signal a clerk who then puts the garment, in the right color and size into a dressing room. The customer then uses a mobile app to unlock the dressing room door and try on the item.

In airports, there will soon be apps that tell shoppers how much time it will take them to get to the gate based on the walking speed that the mobile app is observing.

It’s amazing stuff and it has all just begun.

MacLean: What impact is all of this having on conversations with customers and prospects?

Israel: Contextual technology is now weaving itself into the fabric of the buyer-seller relationship. The data we just discussed, allows the seller to treat all participating customers as individuals, making offers and giving assistance when needed and being unobtrusive when that’s what the customer wants.

What’s also very important here are conversations between customers. We tell each other what and where to buy, travel, eat, watch and listen to. Technology has given customers great power to influence, recommend and warn against brands, and brands have less influence over customer decisions as customers rise in power.

MacLean: How are you using technology differently than you were a year ago?

IsraelIn the last year, I have not really changed much. I have my own portable, Wi-Fi and switched back to non-Bluetooth phones. I have probably double the number of mobile apps I am using. 

The real issue is that I am using more, much more, technology in more ways. I am using it more with family members and medical service providers. I am paying for more with online checking and starting to make mobile cheque deposits-although I get paid increasingly through electronic systems.

Want to talk more about using technology in your business? Connect with us.

50 Free or Low-Cost Apps for Small Businesses

For many small businesses, keeping up with all of the latest tools and apps can be tough. So, we’ll make it a bit easier for you.

Here are 50 low-cost tools and applications to check out today.

The best part is that many are completely free!

  1. Around Me – Search for the nearest restaurants, banks, gas stations, hotels, and more. Time is money and when travelling for business, this app will help.
  2. Award Wallet – Travel a lot for business and have too many reward programs to keep track of? Track it all and stay organized and in sync with your rewards.
  3. 1ShoppingCart  – Build, sell and grow your ecommerce storefront.  You can try out the tool for one month at no cost.
    1Shopping Cart
  4. Beesy – This low cost app enables you to take meeting notes and has automated To-Do lists as well as some nifty Task/Project Management
  5. Bizzabo – A mobile networking app for events and conferences to keep attendees, organizers and sponsors engaged. You can learn who will be attending in advance and make plans accordingly.
  6. Bump – This free app enables to smart phone users to actually bump their phones together to transfer contact information, photos, files, etc.
  7. Camera Awesome – The name alone is cool. This free app is touted as one of the best photo editors. Even the Wall Street Journal has endorsed it.
  8. Cloze – Overcome “inbox overload” and filter through the noise to get to those critical emails.
  9. Converter Plus – This free app not only helps you with currency conversion, but also comes with a mortgage calculator, fuel consumption tools, and more.
  10. Dashlane – Need a password manager and secure digital wallet for devices? This free app might be just what you are looking for.
  11. Dictionary.com – Need a dictionary and thesaurus on the go? This free app is the way to go. A bonus, you don’t need internet while searching words!
  12. Doodle – This low cost app is a great tool if you are in the position of setting up meetings with people in different locations, businesses, etc. Doodle app enables you to poll invitees to determine which date and time best accommodates people.Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 7.24.30 PM
  13. Dropbox – Another great free app that lets you store your files, including photos in the Cloud.  Access them anywhere and share with anyone. You will never have to worry about forgetting a thumb drive again. Or, if you can’t make a meeting, your colleague can access that all-important presentation and deliver it for you.
  14. EasilyDo – Your free personal assistant that checks traffic before your commute, checks weather, tracks packages, lets you know when there is an important date you need to celebrate and more.
  15. Blogger – Create your own free blog in minutes and leverage your other Google products to help promote.
  16. Evernote – Another free app that enables you take notes, make lists, sync files across devices and stores everything in the Cloud.
  17. Facebook Pages – Want to engage with your customers, stakeholders and community in general?  Set up a Facebook page to share information and communicate real-time.
  18. Find My iPhone – Not just for your iPhone, but really any Mac Product, this free app is one that you want to have. If you have ever lost your phone, you know the feeling of fear.  Help mitigate loss with this app.
  19. FlipBoard – Curate the news the way you like it in one place with this free app.
  20. Gate Guru – The winner of numerous Best Travel or Airport Apps, this freebee let’s you view your Tripit and Kayak itineraries, view/post airport security waiting times, see a structured list of airport food, shops, etc.
  21. Gmail – Looking for free email, with real-time notifications, multiple account support and more? Check out Gmail.
  22. Google Docs – Want an easy way to share documents with colleagues and be able to edit together simultaneously? With free Google docs you can be in one part of the world while a colleague or client is in another sharing and updating the same document.
  23. Google Hangout – Can’t make the meeting? Use Google Hangout to meet with up to 10 different people while seeing them online at no cost. Share information, photos and more all from the convenience of your office, or even the airport.
  24. Google+ – Looking for a social channel that is different and offers you the flexibility of distribution lists (circles) magazine style viewing on your tablet? Check out Google+.
  25. Google Translate – What a free and easy way to translate messages, signs or social posts?  Google translate offers both text and audio translations.
  26. Instagram – This free app enables you to take photos and video and then apply filters to improve the product, which is perfect for blogs, websites, and more.
  27. Lemon Wallet – Store digital copies of your credit cards, ID, etc. all for free in this app.
  28. Mozy – Looking for an industry leader in online backup? Mozy is a free app that helps you securely access all your backed-up files
  29. ooVoo – Need to conduct video calls? Check out this free app and join ore than 70 million other video chatters.
  30. PCalc Lite – Looking for a calculator that has more capability than the standard one on your device. This free app gives you a scientific calculator.
  31. Perfect365 – Looking to make people picture perfect for your website, blog, etc.  Perfect365 is a free app that offers one-tap makeovers, photo editing and more.
  32. Photo Editor by Aviary – Another great free option to edit your online photos.  Supported by multiple languages and numerous devices, the reviews are good for this app.
  33. Pic Collage – Looking to dress up your photos for your website, blog, newsletter or other collateral? Check out this free app!
  34. Pic Stitch – Want a different photo editor? Pic Stitch is a free app that creates interesting visuals.
  35. Podcasts App – Want an easy way to access your favorite Podcasts to stay up-to-date on trends and news? Want to customize your own station with your favorite podcasts? Check the free Podcasts app!
  36. Skype – Need to connect with a client or colleague and want to talk face-to-face? Or perhaps SMS?  Check out Skype’s free tools. Upgrade to the paid version and get more options.
  37. Skyscanner – Looking for an easy way to compare flights and costs? Check out this free app!  More than 20 million people are using this app to get better and cheaper flights.
  38. Square – Need a quick and easy way to process credit cards? Why not use your smart phone with this free app. They will even give you the free card reader!
  39. Survey Monkey – Want to get the pulse of your market or a sample at least? Try Survey Monkey. Create you own surveys on your schedule. Their free version lets you create a survey with up to 10 questions. Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 7.23.12 PM
  40. Tripit – Need to keep all your travel plans in one place, plus share with key people? Check out Tripit’s free app.
  41. Tumblr – Looking for a place to host your blog?  Tumblr may be your spot. This free resource hosts more than 108.2 million blogs.
  42. Twitter – Want quick news bites and to share quick news bites about your company in 140 Characters or less? Set up your free Twitter account.
  43. Viber Media – Want to connect with people around the world by phone for free? Then check out this free app.
  44. Vine – If you are looking for an interesting way to showcase your company with six-second videos, Vine could be your free resource. Be sure to sign up for Twitter first, if you haven’t thought.
  45. Wave Accounting – Like many small businesses, you need accounting! Why not try this free accounting software with unlimited invoicing, collaboration options and more.
    Wave Accounting
  46. Waze Maps – Looking for free GPS navigation with turn by turn? Waze may be your app.
  47. Weave –  This free Project Management tool will keep your organized and in the know of what is happening with your business.
  48. Wikipedia – This free online encyclopedia is a great resource that is used by researchers and general information seekers. Create your own Wiki page to showcase your business’ history and expertise.
  49. WordPress – A great free resource to help you create great blogs. With a variety of plug-ins, this is a great tool for your blog.
  50. XE Currency – Have the need to convert currency quickly? Check out this free app.

Don’t overlook how technology can support small business growth. With the right tech, you can grow faster, scale more efficiently, and delight customers faster. For more tips on communication, marketing and collaboration for the small business, be sure to check us out at TaylorMade Solutions.