Playing word games like Scrabble with my children can be quite challenging at times. I know that ‘selfie’ is now in the dictionary, but what about ‘gif’ or ‘bot’? Are they legitimate? And was I within the rules when I added ‘less’ to ‘friction’?
Whether or not ‘frictionless’ has crossed the frontier into common parlance, it’s a concept with which we are all going to become increasingly closer acquainted on a daily basis. When Brexit is being discussed, the thing everyone wants today is ‘frictionless’ trading – without the need for tiresome customs checks and paperwork at national borders.
Suppliers of every kind are investing hugely in the creation of ordering and delivery systems that are as frictionless as possible. The future is a place where doors will open and good things will happen at the wave of a plastic card, smartphone or digital watch – until face and voice recognition develop sufficiently for the machines not to need us to do anything.
Alexa – and other platforms’ versions – is a perfect example of the direction things are taking. Once you have plugged in Amazon’s little toy, you never need to get up from your chair to check the weather forecast, change the radio station, switch on the heating – or discover information that would once have required a trip to a major library.
But so are Amazon’s branded Dash buttons that you simply press when you need some more dog food, dishwasher powder or toilet roll. Until your fridge and cupboard render the button-pressing unnecessary by automatically reordering your groceries as they run low.
And if ‘auto-replenishment’ is on the cards for homes, the same must be true for businesses. Every time a bottle is delivered or goes through a retail checkout (where there will be no humans, obviously) or is thrown into a restaurant recycling bin, its electronic chip will send a message to the supplier, telling them that a replacement is required.
Scan-to-buy (an obsession of mine) is already helping to make shopping frictionless in China – and for users of the Bixby Vision feature on Samsung phones. All users have to do, like spoiled children, is to point (their smartphone) at something they want, and at the click of a button, it’s theirs.
In the US, Instagram Shopping already offers users the chance to buy items they like on images a company’s feed. Soon, the same option will almost certainly be available for products that are being shown off by influencers’ on their vlogs (yet another new word). How long before a single click will get us a swimsuit just like the one our neighbour is wearing on her holiday facebook post from the Costa Brava?
Frictionless, whether it’s applied to a business or an individual, implies a saving of the first of the two most valuable non-monetary commodities on earth: time and data. And an easy way to gather the second.
The restaurant or shop will save the effort they currently devote to placing orders, and the supplier will know just how many bottles of each of its wines are being sold on any given day. This is the kind of information, as enolytics has demonstrated, that can be hugely valuable to any wine business equipped to target their marketing efforts at individual consumers, or groups.
So here’s my challenge to all of us in the wine industry – including myself: how much friction can we eliminate from what we are doing? Let’s start with the simple stuff. How easy is it to get information from our websites? How quickly do they load? (Anything over four seconds loses huge numbers of visitors). Do they look good on mobile devices? (It’s amazing how many wine businesses still fall at this hurdle). How available are tech-sheets and packshots for customers? And images for media? Are we all translating enough of our information into our customers’ languages (as the late great Etienne Hugel began to do nearly a decade ago)?
Do we make it easy for people to contact us? Or do we hide our email addresses and force telephone callers through the dreaded ‘press-button-2-for orders-and-then-wait-and listen-to-us-repeatedly-telling-you-how-important-your-call-is-to-us process?
How efficient are our delivery systems? Do our customers dread the uncertainties of when our truck is going to arrive and the effort required to help unload it?
How easy do we make it for anyone to send back or let us know about faulty bottles? Or to complain about the receipt of ‘wrong’ vintages? (Think about how the simplicity of returning a product to Amazon.)
These are just a few examples off the top of my head. I’m sure readers can think of plenty more. All I’m saying is that alongside the obsession we all have with quality and pricing, we should all remember the words of Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams: “Convenience decides everything.”