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How can we succeed in the online world when it seems to be changing by the day? This article explores critical questions business leaders need to be asking themselves as they explore case examples and strategies that have been applied by others, examine how the technologies and capabilities of the ‘mobile first’ internet could evolve in the next few years and identify a set of practical actions they can adopt to drive exponential online sales growth.

In particular, we shine a spotlight on a massive opportunity that is ‘hiding in plain sight’ to reach hundreds of millions of customers by working with non-competing physical world partners who are desperately looking for ways to engage with and monetise a captive audience.

For businesses across the planet, the penny is dropping at an ever-faster rate – they can see that the internet is here to stay and should be a very clear part of the mix for raising brand awareness, building engagement with potential customers and driving sales growth. Even those who have been selling online for some time are beginning to understand the true scale of the opportunity and acknowledge the potential to drive exponential sales growth.

The evidence is overwhelming – the internet has enabled the birth, emergence and rapid growth of disruptive and highly profitable businesses in every sector. The winners have embraced the opportunity and developed a digital mindset which they continue to evolve in line with new thinking about to use the internet as a sales channel. As a result, they are delivering exponential growth in online performance. At the same time, a number of players are pursuing truly global reach. For example, organisations like Singularity University are helping entrepreneurs develop businesses aimed at reaching a billion or more customers using the power of the mobile internet. Established players from the physical world are constantly evolving their ‘bricks and clicks’ models and many are achieving great success – some are even adopting exponential principles and a ‘markets of a billion’ mindset to disrupt their own thinking to drive dramatic growth in their online sales.

In our experience, while leaders are spending more time thinking about their online offering, going to relevant events and talking to technology vendors, they don’t always know what questions to ask to help frame their own internet growth plan. With that in mind, here are ten key topics to focus on:

  1. Leadership in the Online Retail Environment – What strategies, business models, social media approaches, and tactics are successful players adopting today to evolve their online proposition? How are they blending it with the physical world presence and overcoming internal resistance from those who fear the impact of traditional sales approaches and their own jobs? How are online retailers sustaining a relationship with customers that typically make low volume purchases – e.g. once every year or five years?
  2. New Attraction Strategies, Models and Tactics – What approaches are others around the world adopting to attract attention and grow their potential digital customer base?
  3. Crucial Conversations – What is the emerging thinking on how issues such as security, privacy, online payments, biometric identification, net neutrality, access, and data protection might impact online retail strategies for firms of different sizes? What solutions are there for firms that don’t want to do it in house or lack the resources and expertise?
  4. Digital Democracy and Power Redistribution – How might the next phase of internet development impact the personalisation of propositions and how people interact, test products, consume and ‘reward’ their most trusted suppliers? How important is personalisation in a B2B context or where you are selling relatively commoditised consumer offerings? Do customers want personalised relationships with their online suppliers of printer paper, airline tickets and dustbin liners?
  5. New Power Tools – What are the technologies that could power and deliver the next evolutions of the internet and social media? When should we start paying attention to converging exponential technologies such as AI, big data, predictive analytics, instant language translation, 5G, mobile blockchain, IoT, cloud, 3D/4D printing, genetic computing, quantum computing, human enhancement, immersive interaction with broadcast content, immersive VR/AR, holographic representations, new projection and display technologies (flexible screens, walls), hyperloop, drones, and autonomous vehicles?
  6. The Intelligent Internet – How might these critical coming technological developments and functionality enhancements impact how retailers organise to create and service demand? How can we use them to evolve ever-more rewarding customer experiences? Can they help connect staff with customers – and at what cost? Where there are large and possibly constantly changing product ranges, how can we provide accessibility at an affordable cost? How can these technologies help simplify supply chains, and improve processes and even workplace environments?
  7. The Experiential Internet – How might advances in multi-sensory and immersive technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, haptics, sound immersion, and holography add dimensions such as touch, small, sound, and taste to the online and mobile shopping experience? When might it be practicable and economically viable to add such features?
  8. Disruptive Thinking – how can we use physical world partnerships with non-competing partners to put ourselves in front of literally hundreds of millions of potential future online customers? Railway stations, airports, and a range of public spaces have high footfall – how can we use offers, pop-up stalls and immersive installations to attract attention and start to attract those who might never have visited us online? How can we translate physical world connections into online interactions? How can we reward the physical space owners for any initial and follow-on business generated? What kind of skillsets do we need to strike these kinds of deals?
  9. Visualising Hyper-Growth – How can we overcome internal cynicism or reluctance to test step-change approaches? How can we bring to life the potential for exponential growth in the online arena by demonstrating a range of real world retail scenarios that would resonate with our people and show them what’s possible?
  10. Crossing the ‘Messy Middle’ – What practical approaches can we adopt to take our organisation across the ‘messy middle’ from the attitudinal, behavioural, cultural, operational, and technological realities of now to a place where we are realising the potential of future possibilities? How can we develop an experimental culture and approach that allows and encourages people to run rapid low cost experiments and terminate them quickly if they do not show early promise?

The retail climate is an ecosystem in evolution. Disruptive mutations in shopping habits and business models are reshaping the present and forming new trajectories to the future. The digital consumer is for the taking for organizations willing to question the assumptions of the past. As highlighted above, whilst there are inherent technological challenges in pursuing exponential growth, the real obstacles lie in developing the mindsets and associated behaviours that will allow us to think unreasonable thoughts and pursue seemingly unattainable goals.

About the authors

The authors are futurists with Fast Future – a professional foresight firm specializing in delivering keynote speeches, executive education, research, and consulting on the emerging future and the impacts of change for global clients. Fast Future publishes books from leading future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics, exponential technologies, and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, societies, businesses, and governments and create the trillion-dollar sectors of the future. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com

Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, award-winning keynote speaker, author, and the CEO of Fast Future. His prime focus is on helping clients understand the emerging future and shape strategic responses that put people at the center of the agenda. Rohit is the co-author of Designing Your Future, lead editor and a contributing author for The Future of Business, and editor of Technology vs. Humanity. He is a co-editor and contributor for the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity and The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, and two forthcoming books – Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.

Steve Wells is an experienced strategist, keynote speaker, futures analyst, partnership working practitioner, and the COO of Fast Future. He has a particular interest in helping clients anticipate and respond to the disruptive bursts of technological possibility that are shaping the emerging future. Steve is a contributor to the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity and The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, co-editor of The Future of Business, and Technology vs. Humanity. He is a co-editor and contributor to two forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.