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Just another day in the technological revolution

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It’s hard to know what to write about this week for M-Retailing: the issues facing the UK online and mobile commerce community seem somewhat trivial in comparison to global events. Brexit was bad enough – and its ramifications are yet to be known let alone felt – but the all-too-inevitable election of Donald Trump is of a whole new magnitude of woe.

But it is part of a bigger picture and I believe both the Brexit vote and the election of Trump are part of a massive societal change, which is partly the result of rapid technological change.

And retailers are at the heart of this. The rise of the internet has changed all business sectors and changed society. It has caused massive disruption to the norm and it has done so extremely rapidly: in my lifetime, recorded music has moved from vinyl to cassette to CD to MP3 to streaming in 20 years, each making the former redundant. Apply this to everything in life and that is way too rapid a change for most people when taken across the board. The world has simply changed too fast for most people.

And now the people are revolting: ‘the people’ don’t want the new technological status quo and are using the only tools they have access to – voting with binary elections/referenda – to register their protest.

What they are rebelling against they don’t really know. They are railing against the political class. They are railing against a world where the few have the most and the internet rubs the downtrodden masses noses in it. They are railing against the modern world that has been reshaped by technology. They want to punish the system that has let them down. They want to kick the things they no longer understand.

Look at what both Brexit’s and Trump’s core values claim to be – a return to a protectionist, isolationist, coal and steel-fuelled past. These are the things from a rose-tinted yesteryear (which everyone conveniently forgets was rubbish) and aren’t about Twitter or conversational commerce or chatbots or Apple Pay. Those things are, in some ways, the cause of all this.

Disruption is held up in tech circles as the way to go to shake up the norm and make the world a better place. In reality, the disruptors are just making life confusing for many people and they don’t ever get to see the benefit of it.

The events of the past few months are the ultimate result of disruption. At least we will see once and for all if there really is opportunity in disruption. Perhaps, we all need to humanise the rapid pace of change that is happening?

Of course, it will be business as usual despite all this and so it should be. Black Five-day will come and go and Christmas will be a boon for retailers as ever, but we must be aware that we are building on shifting sands.

Trump won’t take office until January 2017 and the impact of what he actually does isn’t likely to be felt until well into 2018 – it’s going to take a while to build the wall along the Mexican border, for starters.

Similarly, Brexit isn’t going to be triggered until March 2018 in all likelihood – even though we don’t know what it will look like: hard, soft or, in an egg-cellent analogy, runny (hopefully without soldiers). Only as 2018 drags on will we know exactly what Brexit means Brexit means.

Scarily, the impact of Brexit and Trump are likely to hit at the same time in late 2018. A perfect storm if you will, just in time for Black Five-day 2018. This is what retailers perhaps should be preparing for?

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