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Perspectives

Lessons from ancient commerce

The buyer-seller relationship has come full circle, with digital giving today’s brands a new twist on the direct access to customers that Bronze Age tradespeople had. How can companies make the most of the modern “open-air” marketplace?

Your company needs to be ready for Joe. Joe wants to buy a hypoallergenic mattress made from sustainably-sourced materials that is also firm enough for his bad back. He has done a lot of research reading the consumer reviews on various products, and narrowed it down to three different brands, including yours. Is your company in a position to answer Joe’s questions about if your mattresses’ fabric covering is made from organic cotton, and if the wood frame is made from sustainably harvested pine? Does your sales team, phone support team, and website customer care staff know whether he could order a bamboo fabric cover instead? Thanks to social media and open access digital archives, without any input from your company Joe can quickly research all of the specs of your product, ask his peers if they think your mattress is firmer than your competitor, and hear stories about how your product fairs over time.

Over a few millennia of commerce divisions between consumers and sellers have slowly built up, making the customer more and more detached from the original craftsman and his product. In the past two decades these silos between customers and companies, and an organization’s own silos between departments, have been torn down to expose business behaviors, decisions, and interactions in a globally transparent way.

This dramatic shift to clear exposure to business and customer practices is due in large part to the influence of digital and social media on commerce and consumer behaviors. Digital technologies enable customers to conduct exponential amounts of research with surprising ease. They are readily able to reach out to companies with questions in a simple email. They can ask peers for advice, and compare you to your competitors with a few clicks of a button, and cutting the brand out of the communication loop entirely. Social media has put recommendations, complaints, and information–accurate or not–out into the open for mass consumption, leaving brands with very few options except to engage in the dialogue in a transparent, customer-centric way

Companies must be prepared to provide answers and solve problems out in the digital open ecosystem, as consumers expand their adoption of digital technologies and incorporate digital more and more into their shopping, buying, and reviewing process.

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