In the past week we’ve seen just how fluid public opinion is during this crisis. Whilst at the beginning unity was the watchword and hostilities were put to one-side as the media, politicians and the public yearned for a sense that there was a clear path through the disruption caused by Covid-19. Since last weekend however, that consensus has started to collapse and approval ratings in the government's handling of the crisis has collapsed. Well what’s this got to do with technology?
One of the big questions being asked by tech companies at the moment is, ‘how is the customer landscape changing?’. We’ve known for a while that there is real concern from people that the benefits of the internet are not being equally shared. Doteveryone published a paper last week; “People, Power and Technology: The 2020 Digital Attitudes Report” exploring this dynamic, and there should be some alarms going off in tech HQs that just like confidence in our governments can fall away quickly, so can consumer loyalty in challenging markets.
It’s been well documented since the start of the pandemic that Amazon has enjoyed one prolonged Black Friday style boom. In mid-April it was reported that Jeff Bezos’ giant was making $11,000 a second, reinforcing his position as the world’s richest person with a fortune of $138bn.
Doteveryone talks about the creation of a new class, the ‘tech left-behind’, and a society where change is happening to them, not with or for them, as articulated by Exec Chair and Founder Martha Lane Fox in the foreword of the report. It is easy to see why that sentiment exists when Jeff benefits from the crisis.
When you dive into the detail of the report you uncover a range of views that should be especially worrying to technology companies. People feel that they understand the value of their data but have no way of shaping their online experiences, and they are resigned to bad customer service. Damningly only 19% believe tech companies are designing products and services with customers best interests in mind.
You don’t have to look for long to see how a consumer backlash might occur. A simple Google search can source a number of established media outlets (such as The Verge and The Guardian) publishing lists of alternative shopping sites to Amazon in recent months. I was having a chat with an exec of one major UK tech business over the weekend who expressed how they felt it was important to live their values. They weren’t furloughing staff or making Covid-19 redundancies, and instead of selling new products to their customers they were offering support to help them stay afloat.
Whenever we come out the other side of the crisis the world will be changed forever. Sure, Amazon will be fine, but other brands might not survive a more discerning customer. Primark had no e-commerce offering to speak of and have lost $650m of sales pretty much overnight; they are going to have to rapidly enter a market deeply suspicious of large businesses. Large businesses are going to have to adjust to public sentiment.
Doteveryone’s research demonstrated that people feel ignored and trapped, but also willing to adopt behaviours. Consumers would be willing to accept trade-offs in their own experience in return for better governance. Pre-pandemic convenience drove commerce and the attitude of many tech businesses, but that’s a picture that can rapidly change. Just like governments are discovering that good-will and confidence can rapidly turn, with people keen to hold those in power to account; tech businesses beware.
For the full report from Doteveryone, as well as their recommendations to the government for greater regulation head to https://www.doteveryone.org.uk/report/peoplepowertech2020/
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