Recently at Tech. (powered by Retail Week), our CCO Mike and Zana Busby, consumer psychologist at Retail Reflections took to the stage to discuss ‘the antidote to a dystopian future’, moderated by Retail Reflection’s CEO, Andrew Busby.

‘What is this dystopia?’ I hear you ask. Well with technology infiltrating our lives on a daily basis, are we in danger of becoming slaves to our own creation, a civilisation where the smartphone reigns over us all? Perhaps a tad dramatic, yet, looking around on the tube at my fellow commuters en-route to Printworks- it’s hard not to think that the answer is yes– all eyes transfixed to the screens in their hands, reminiscent of a somewhat zombie-like state. I couldn’t help but think ‘wow, has millions of years of evolution bought us to this point?’.

Andrew kicked things off by introducing us all to a Motorola portable phone that came out in 1983, costing a whopping $3985. Heavy, brick-like and obscenely expensive, it makes you realise how rapidly the mobile has evolved, and with it, our reliance upon it. It has become the facilitator to socially connecting us all on a global scale, and so Zana’s take on things comes from a human relationship perspective; she explains that our greatest need (after food and shelter) is for positive social connections with people. Face-to-face conversations are the most human thing we do, and forming relationships is fulfilling some of the most important human needs. And yet, we’re always plugged in, always distracted, always on. We check our phones a colossal 85-130 times a day; this addiction has inevitably changed how we think, feel, and interact with one another. We are exhibiting the type of attachment behaviours usually reserved for our interactions with intimate partners, except that it’s a virtual device we are holding in our arms. This ‘technoference’ is damaging one of the most important human needs in our lives.

Zana further explains that, unsurprisingly, over time, these small wounds can fester and increase conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and lead to a drop in life satisfaction and an increase in symptoms of depression. If we want to be a friend, or partner, or lover, or colleague and we truly want to connect, then more often than not it pays to occasionally look at the person we’re engaged with. We have to actually be with them.

Research shows that as a species, humans are struggling with adapting to a life which has become saturated with technology – research conducted by Deloitte in 2017 suggests that over 70% of Gen Z-ers and millennials think they use their mobile phones too much. So, with an ever-growing rate of technology use, Mike believes we all share the responsibility to use technology in a way that not only enhances human experience but contributes to the good of society and humanity as a whole.

In the same way that Zana believes we must be present in our lives to connect with our fellow humans, Mike explains that to make the right technology choices at retail you have to consider the needs of the human first and foremost. It should always be humans first, tech second.

Speaking first-hand, Mike described his experience earlier on in the year while manning a stall at a car boot sale; he was able to see for himself the emotions both the customer and the front-line sales staff (aka Mike) go through when navigating around the possibility of a purchase. The car boot sale takes things back to basics, and these fundamental principles should be applied at retail: retailers must establish how they want their customers and front-line staff to feel and then work out how technology can help in getting them there.

So, this begs the question, what is the role of technology at retail? Is it to replace the human interaction? Is it to distract from poor human interaction? Is it to sell more stuff? Or is it to tell more stories? Or is it to fundamentally support what people want from physical experiences?

The role of technology at retail- and for that matter, in life- should be to support meaningful physical, human interaction. For us this is fundamental. Most decisions at retail are primarily led by emotional self-fulfilment or self-expression criteria, so when you remove information overload you ensure that you are simply creating engaging experiences that appeal on an emotional level, ultimately having a better chance of hitting home the story you want to share with your audience. And by putting human emotions first and understanding that if you engage correctly on an emotional level, you are more likely to win the hearts (and wallets) of your audience.

We are not robots, we are humans with emotions, and as humans we always search for happiness. So, let’s take a little holiday from our technology and devolve a little. That would be my antidote; seek real emotional connection with real people, like we used to do.

And finally, if ever you need an incentive for human-centric thinking, I think this animation sums up that dystopian state we speak of rather well…



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