I’ve worked from a home office since 2002. Forced into it — and initially opposed due to unfamiliarity — I didn’t like the isolation. But after acclimating, I became more productive, happier, and healthier than in any previous office job. Now, 18 years later, I may never go back.
One question is if that same realization will sink into corporate ranks now forced to #WFH. Could adjusting to working from home be a silver lining for some industries? In being forced to try new ways of doing business, could we discover habits that work better than older conventions? How might this principle play out in local businesses?
I’ve been looking for discoveries that could be blessings in disguise. Just like remote work, these aren’t new concepts but ones that are now given the chance to shine. For example, I spend lots of time analyzing virtual reality, which could be a valuable virtual event tool.
But more to Street Fight’s main focus, what discoveries or business approaches could benefit local commerce? One of them could in fact be VR’s cousin, augmented reality. Its ability to help people visualize things or facilitate “see what I see” co-presence could help local service pros socially distance.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, we’re seeing tech companies step up to the plate in a mixture of altruistic and opportunistic moves. That’s everything from Comcast removing data caps to Amazon removing its paywall for streaming kids shows. But what about local specifically? Again, that’s where businesses are getting hit most.
We’ve seen moves in the local space over the past week from Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare. Though there are several others, we’ll drill down on this representative sample. We’ll also give a shoutout to Google for its work to free up human and compute resources for local listings updates, covered Monday by Damian Rollison.
CCPA isn’t the only factor that will impact privacy and data collection. There are less-discussed and potentially more significant variables like the death of browser cookies and other tech-centric measures. Especially for location tracking, private sector influences and accelerants loom.
Apple is far ahead with Watch and Airpods, which may have sold 3 million units since Black Friday. Google meanwhile acquired Fitbit to buttress its wearables play. Amazon and Microsoft launched wearables lines in the past quarter, and smaller players like Bose and Snap are planting seeds for a wearables future.
There’s an underlying driver for this activity that goes back to the perennial analyst exercise of “following the money.” This is all about extrapolating product roadmaps based on tech giants’ motivations. This is often to future-proof their core businesses or diversify revenue in the face of maturing products.
While Amazon is challenging the duopoly, when zeroing in on local advertising and commerce — Street Fight’s hallmark — as opposed to driving eCommerce, another challenger may loom: Uber. In fact, we have a longstanding prediction that it will blitz local advertising by strategically building from the Trojan Horse that is “in-ride mode.”
This theory is based on the fact that Uber has your captive attention during rides, given in-app utilities like mapping and ETA. Furthermore, it knows where you’re going (think destination-based promotions). In the aggregate, it has lots of behavioral data for a richer mosaic of audience-targeting gold.
Amazon has a knack for moving into new vertical segments and then applying its logistical mastery and economies of scale to carve out margins and undercut incumbents. Then, it doubles down by scaling things up to its signature high-volume/low-margin approach. As Jeff Bezos ruthlessly admits, “Your margin is my opportunity.”
The latest place for this to unfold is retail. No, we’re not talking about Whole Foods, though that’s part it (more on that in a bit). We’re talking about Amazon’s transformation of the in-store experience — upending and streamlining logistics just like it’s done in shipping and cloud computing.
Here are some predictions for how Amazon’s disruption of retail via licensing of its Go technology will upend the industry.
As Google and Apple lead the way, we are getting closer to ubiquitous visual mapping. If that happens, there will be significant implications for entities that currently use search and mapping for marketing or online presence. They’ll need to make sure they are optimized in this new format.
This could lead to an extension of SEO to cultivate presence in visual experiences. Just like in search, correct business location and details will need to be optimized to show up in the right places. You don’t want the AR overlay for your restaurant floating above the salon next door.
The real opportunity in VR and connected cars, going back to our primary focus on local commerce, could be to utilize that captive in-car media time with local discovery tools. Ad-supported experiences could be geo-targeted based on where you are or where you’re going. Destination-based discovery tools could be baked in.
Jeff Bezos likes to say, “Your margin is my opportunity.” Like with Whole Foods and grocery, Amazon moves into new verticals and applies its logistics-first approach to carve out margins, then undercut competitors. It is even getting into shipping, in a move to own its delivery infrastructure.
The next local conquest could be restaurants. For Amazon, it’s not just about serving food, but doing so in a way that aligns with its forte: delivering things to your home. The biggest clues and synergies lie in its established delivery and logistics playbook as well as its recent $575 million investment in Deliveroo.
Enter the cloud kitchen.
AR is emerging at a time when the physical retail world is undergoing significant transformation. Things like Amazon Go stores and the counteractive “retail as a service” movement have raised awareness and hunger for retail evolution. So AR’s retail shopping use cases fall on fertile soil.
But retail is just one way that AR intersects with local commerce. AR comes into play in another key local commerce category: home services. Innovators like Streem are bringing remote assistance to traditional service calls (think: busted pipe).
Though visual search challengers such as Snapchat and Pinterest could shine in niche use cases such as fashion items, Google will rule as the best all-around utility for visual search. It has the deepest tech stack, and the substance (knowledge graph) to be useful beyond just a flashy novelty for identifying things visually.
The name of the game now is to get users to adopt it. Google Lens won’t be a silver bullet and will shine in a few areas where Google is directing users, such as pets and flowers. But it will really shine in product search, which happens to be where monetization will eventually come into the picture.
Use cases will materialize over time, but it’s already clear that visual search can carry lots of commercial intent. Point your phone at a store or restaurant to get business details. Point your phone at a pair of shoes on the street to find out prices, reviews, and purchase info. This proximity between the searcher and the subject indicates high intent, which means higher conversions and more money for Google. Moreover, visual search has the magic combination of frequency and utility, which could make it the first scalable AR use case: making the real world clickable.
5G goes far beyond just a speed boost. The quantitative advantages are joined by qualitative factors that will enable all kinds of new consumer use cases and content delivery strategies. This notably includes more precise location tracking/targeting and even some indoor use cases (think: retail). 5G-enabled phones will phase in over the next three years. Then, it’s off to the races.
Mike Boland: A recent and relatively understated development from Google could portend the future of augmented reality. Its previously teased “VPS” was released into the wild for a small set of users. For those unfamiliar, VPS (visual positioning service) guides users with 3D overlays on upheld smartphone screens. Sort of a cousin of AR, this type of experience could represent the sector’s eventual killer apps. Though we’ve seen the most AR success so far in gaming (Pokemon Go) and social (Snapchat AR lenses), it could be more mundane utilities like navigation that engender high-frequency use cases.
Several Superbowl ads touched on key themes in local such as multi-location brand advertisers (Burger King) and locally relevant technology like voice search (Amazon Alexa). And of course, there were lots of car commercials—an inherently local product category given the offline shopping component.
Last week, location technology company Foursquare announced its new Pinpoint audience segments product. Building from its large corpus of data on places, spatial movements and behavioral patterns, Pinpoint represents the latest in Foursquare’s evolution as the “location layer,” for the internet. We got the chance to sit down with Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck in San Francisco to find out more. Here is the full interview.
Mike Boland: Any entity competing for local commerce—publishers, brands, ad-tech players—has a looming platform choice for voice. Like the platform wars between iOS and Android, it’s a matter of deciding where to apply finite resources and development muscle. Maybe the answer is “both” Google and Amazon. But for now, Google appears to have the lead.
Mike Boland: AR may not play out in the way you think, at least in the near term. Though it’s generally thought of as graphical overlays on your field of view, another “overlay” could be more viable in the near term: sound. This “audio AR” modality could come sooner than—and eventually coexist with—its graphical cousin.
Mike Boland: Given the attribution possibilities, its scale, recent delivery partnership with Starbucks, and existing Uber Eats infrastructure, Uber’s move into advertising looks pretty inevitable. Of course, it would have to gain internal competency as an ad company, so look for acquisitions or talent hires (or both) in 2019. And look for more rhetoric about the latest company to challenge the duopoly, this time in a very local way.