The Consumer of the Future

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They number more than 150 million, more than 70 million of them from generation Y and the rest almost evenly split between generation X and younger baby boomers. They were born after 1956 and fall into the www generation. They rescued Apple; they prefer to check in at the airport using self-service machines; they use automated check-out registers at Home Depot or automated check-in devices at hotels. They've grown accustomed to using the Internet as their main way to get news, entertainment, and to do their shopping. They are comfortable with Web self-service and demand it from their suppliers. Most important, they will be the owners and senior executives of the industrial, consumer, and services companies that you will need to sell to and service. They will gladly tell you how they intend to buy and be serviced. You, in turn, will either meet their electronic needs or they will click their mouse button and relegate you to oblivion as they seamlessly move over to your competitor's Web site. Sound extreme? Consider these facts: Average annual Internet-user growth rates exceeded 20 percent over the past decade. U.S. Department of Commerce statistics for 2004 state online consumer sales of $117 billion, representing a measly 3.3 percent of total U.S. retail sales of $3.6 trillion. Yet while total U.S. consumer sales grew by 6.8 percent in 2004, online consumer sales grew by 26 percent. Go ahead, reread those numbers. Now ask yourself: Do I sufficiently understand the www generation's way of thinking, and am I ready to sell and service them their way? The www generation created the digital lifestyle and they love living it. Here's a closer glimpse into this digital lifestyle (many thanks to my distinguished colleague Tim Bajarin for his input regarding this list): Digital entertainment center (DEC): The www generation is never more than a browser-link away from its DEC. For example, these consumers seamlessly connect to their PCs and televisions, access movies, and turn on/off their house alarm systems. They are also the target of a fierce shootout between telecom, PC, consumer electronics, and cable companies that seek to dominate the explosive digital entertainment hub. Wireless home networks:
They look forward to the arrival of the 802.11n wireless chipsets, which finally can transmit video in real time throughout the house at speeds of 100 mbps. Redistributed information content: They prefer to watch Sprint TV service via their cell phones, or connect via Orb Networks to their DEC--their way, not your way. Smarter cell phones: They are proponents of wireless broadband technology like EV-DO and Edge 3G networks, given their eventual support for video via the cell phone. If you thought digital pictures were cool today, wait until you see what's in store for the future. Voice over IP, the future communication pipe: They are driving the integration of voice and data via VoIP, a technology that by 2009 will be built into every telecom, cable, PC, and consumer electronics device. WiMAX (a wireless industry coalition) over Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity): They are the ones who recently moved en masse to Honolulu to be the beta testers of the first WiMAX network, where four reception towers can cost effectively cover an entire city because they are placed 20 miles apart, versus 200 feet apart for Wi-Fi. Blogging as an all-info source: They get their news and information through Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds available on sites like Bloglines and Pluck, and soon via future media giants AOL, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Sensors everywhere, searching, locating, and communicating: They buy the products with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags because these tags greatly simplify their mobile lifestyles. The www generation is neither loyal nor going away anytime soon--as the consumers of the future, they are the ones with whom you will build and manage your customer relationships. They hold the keys to your organization's future financial success. Get your action plan in place for the customer of the future. Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM and real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation and the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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