Triangulating the Future of Local Commerce  

Street Fight’s charter is to chronicle innovation and business success within the local commerce universe. After doing this for almost ten years, we’ve developed an eye for the cause and effect dynamics that drive the industry and its subsectors (search, social, mobile, media, advertising, etc.).

Just as past behavior can indicate future outcomes, this seasoned industry perspective has engendered a penchant for future-gazing — a ritual that continues to bear fruit. That includes recent bullseyes like Amazon’s move into “retail as a service” and Uber’s move into local advertising.

To formalize this new flavor of Street Fight coverage, we’re launching Future Finders. It will be an ongoing column at Street Fight, including our voices and yours. If you have something concrete and predictive (though not self-serving) to say, we’ll give you priority in going to the front of the line in our crowded and selective pipeline of outside contributions (submissions guidelines here).

You’ll also see Future Finders authorship from columnists like Managing Editor Joe Zappa, Lead Analyst Mike Boland, as well as frequent contributors like Brandify (Street Fight’s owner) VP of Product Damian Rollison and Director of Marketing Dustin Hayes.

See the full archive below and return here for updates. We’ll also create plenty of front-page links so you can find your way back. Contact us if you’re interested in participating in or sponsoring Street Fight narratives that will increasingly look forward instead of back.

Future Finders Archive

3 Technologies to Support Retail’s Touchless Era

When we return to shopping in physical stores, will that look different? It’s hard to imagine there will be as much much merchandise handling as before. Will it be a “touchless” environment? And if so, which technologies will power the touchless future?

Let’s dive into a few candidates.

Emerging Trends Shaping the Future of Parking

The fluctuating need for car parking spaces is a source of frustration and concern for city officials all over the world. In the US alone, there are said to be between 105 million and two billion spaces – which is potentially more than the number of cars in existence across the globe. While during busy periods, such as the holiday season, these extensive parking lots are likely to be filled, most of the time they sit empty and unused. 

This is wasteful when growing urban areas are constantly in need of more space for housing, schools, and business development. But an array of technologies and technical processes such as automation, the Internet of Things, and self-driving vehicles promise the potential transformation of parking lots and, with them, cityscapes themselves.

App Data, Privacy, and the IDFA Armageddon: Industry Leaders’ Takes

As an industry, we must embrace the new rules of iOS14 and create a sustainable future for both app developers and advertisers. I believe we can all agree that user consent is important for any app that monetizes through advertising. Also, there are options to provide user-level attribution and necessary data for performance advertising within Apple’s acceptable framework. I’d encourage all publishers to talk to Apple and seek clarification on process and end-user consent along with the use of IDFVs & SKAdNetwork product road map, etc. 

I expect that publishers will aggressively move to optimize their sign-up funnels to maximize consent or live with campaign-only-level metrics and lose end-user targeting. If you’d like to continue to optimize towards ROAS, we encourage you to think of privacy consent as a step in the UA conversion funnel necessary to show targeted ads to consumers.

The All But Inevitable Outcome of the Facebook Advertiser Boycott

The boycott may yet exert some meaningful pressure on Facebook to change its ways, but that outcome is unlikely. This is partly due to the dynamics of the advertising market itself but also to the global scale of Facebook’s business and the essential role end consumers must play in any boycott. It’s worth examining each of these factors in turn.

Can a Pandemic Inflect Local Commerce Tech? Part II

What about the tech adoption accelerants happening on the supply side? Tech giants who provide marketing and operational tools for local businesses have been in hyperdrive over the past few months to roll out new Covid-era features.

Here are three areas where we’re seeing the most activity … and where we could correspondingly see the most local business evolution.

How Advertisers Can Turn the Facebook Boycott into a Transformative Moment

It would be helpful if about 20 of the large brands boycotting Facebook put their money where their mouth is and invested in the establishment of a data and publisher sharing network. 

The next step would be identifying the media publisher outlets as partners. The co-op would need to negotiate a performance-based publisher relationship, which would effectively increase content monetization for publishers’ content channels. 

Apple and Snap Signal Local AR Commerce Ambitions

Recent announcements from Snap and Apple at their respective developer conferences point to future connections between AR and local commerce.

Snap’s Local Lenses will let developers create geo-anchored persistent content that Snap users can discover through the camera interface. This will also include the ability for users to leave persistent AR graphics for friends to discover. The use case that Snap has promoted is more about fun and whimsy, including “painting” the world with digital and expressive graffiti. But the development could also include local storefront information.

Moving on to Apple, it similarly continues to show its AR aspirations. The latest is GeoAnchors for ARkit, announced at WWDC.  These evoke AR’s location-based potential by letting users plant and discover spatially anchored graphics that are persistent across sessions and users.

Can a Pandemic Inflect Local Commerce Tech?

Could forced adoption of alternative shopping methods like curbside pickup lead to user acclimation? Will millions of shoppers get exposed to the merits of these streamlined options and like what they see? Will new habits be born that sustain throughout normal times?

If so, these technologies — along with virtual-office enablement — could benefit from this period as a blessing in disguise for exposing their value propositions. But who stands to benefit most? We’ve identified five local commerce tech areas to which this could apply.

Can Emerging Tech Support Local’s New Normal?

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.

2020’s Location-Privacy Winter: The iOS Edition

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.

Follow the Money: Will Wearables Inflect in 2020?

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.

Is Uber Local Advertising’s Duopoly Killer?

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.

Retail as a Service: Amazon Tips its Hand

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.

Is Visual Mapping the Next Google-Apple Battleground?

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.

Immersive Tech’s Next Conquest: Your Car

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.

What’s a Cloud Kitchen? Amazon’s Next Move to Revolutionize a Major Shopping Sector

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 Impacts Local Commerce, Disrupting Home Services and Retail

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).

Visual Search and Local: A Match Made in Mountain View

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.

Is Google Building an “Internet of Places?”

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.

How Will 5G Unlock Location Targeting?

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.

AR in Local Commerce: Google Shows the Way

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.

Building the Location Layer: A Conversation with Foursquare

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. 

Google and Amazon Escalate Voice ‘Platform Wars’

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.

Will Audio AR Drive Local Commerce?

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.  

Local Advertising’s Next Sleeping Giant: Uber

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. 

Retail as a Service: Amazon will Create (and Destroy) with Cashierless Checkout Solution

Mike Boland: The innovation including and surrounding cashierless checkout goes beyond payments to affect a broader set of functions like supply chain, inventory management, and store layouts. It’s like a retail toolkit in a box, with cash-flow friendly pricing, à la SaaS. You may have heard of it: It’s called retail as a service (RaaS), and it could transform the next decade of retail. Amazon will lead the way.

What Will AR Mean for Consumer Brands?

What’s driving AR today? And what does it mean for big consumer brands? Our lead analyst Mike Boland tackles these questions in this week’s Road Map column, which delves into the tech giants’ investments in AR and what they mean for the future of XR-driven brand advertising.

Will AR Bring Together the Best of Online and Offline Shopping?

Mike Boland: We know about the advantages of e-commerce. There’s more supply, transparency, cost efficiency, inventory (a.k.a “endless aisle”), and the ability to dynamically search and filter product attributes. AR can engender a sort of hybrid UX that brings these features to store aisles. The losers in the next era of retail will be those who try to fight this experiential innovation.

Not All Voice Assistants are Created Equal

Several tech giants are chasing voice search and assistant apps. They’re motivated by different factors—each seeing voice as a way to support, grow, and protect their unique core businesses.

Who Will Own Your Augmented Reality?

Questions about AR ownership will be particularly contentious wherever money is changing hands, such as in AR advertising. Courts will face questions such as ownership of digital ad inventory when there are AR overlays on private property (or on other ads). There could be similar gray area in retail & commerce.

Will Apple Help Assemble the ‘Internet of Places’?

The AR cloud is the missing piece in the vision we all have for how AR should work. It’s the spatial map of the world that will let AR devices understand their surroundings. Taking this into account, the news that Apple is collecting its own data for Apple Maps may have implications for AR.