Convenience Culture

I was recently surfing through Amazon and could not stop thinking about how dramatically online capabilities have altered traditional shopping. You no longer have to leave the couch or ask an associate if they have more sizes in the back. You may not bring a friend, but who needs one? Algorithms pull items according to your taste and other shoppers post lengthy reviews that can reaffirm or negate your concerns.

This reminds me again of that Winston Churchill quote used by Sherry Turkle in Alone Together: “We shape buildings and then they shape us.” Computer’s reshaping of culture goes beyond shopping – it creates new consumer expectations for all brands/companies.

According to Language of New Media author Lev Manovich, media reflects the culture it serves. We have moved from industrial mass production to post-industrial customization. I would argue that customization is just one element that supports a larger transition to convenience culture.

Computers have opened access to an abundance of information, which requires careful filtering to avoid overwhelming. The best shopping experience, and I would say brand interaction, relies on convenience.  To successfully deliver a convenient web experience, you must create a platform/site that is:

Search-friendly

To manage information overflow, online users rely on robust search engines. This is a given to most, but worth reiterating – you must consider key phrases and search terms when developing content to ensure customer visibility. Many of those responsible for web content are currently refreshing  to maximize compatibility with Google’s Hummingbird update. Reflecting the influence of voice activated search functions (e.g. Siri), the new search algorithm considers the full context of the question or comment, rather than just key words, to provide more specific results.

Now you must ask yourself – does my web content answer my customers’ questions?

Easily Navigated

OK, your customer found your site but this doesn’t end the journey. Now you need to provide a clean, universally understood layout. In addition to content organization, you must also consider graphical representation of the recommended user path. Will they understand to click this or hover over that to drop down the menu? Logical content organization has always been necessary, but the participatory nature of new media requires signaling the appropriate motions as well.

Customized

Quick navigation to the right content also relies on a customized experience. Calling back to my Amazon example, this is a platform that fully embraces the individual. It considers prior searches and purchases to present a shopping experience that best appeals to Haleigh. However, I’m not sure it’s flawless. Amazon, why are you pushing four different versions of the fruit infusion pitcher I already own?

From a convenience perspective, I appreciate that the company filters my experience because the full view of inventory would be overwhelming and exhausting. From a privacy perspective, I still struggle with the understanding that the site knows my tastes better than my friends. Now the platform doesn’t stop there…

Multipurpose

Amazon also filters my online experience – pulling multiple consumer functions to one platform. Much like the multipurpose nature of devices, robust platforms seek opportunity to absorb other web activities in order to serve as a central hub. Now I can visit Amazon to buy shoes, download and track my music as well as stream episodes of my favorite television shows.

Google’s Hummingbird update also extends it’s services. According to Sara Angeles’ article on Business News Daily, “With this feature, Google not only scrapes content from other websites to display information on search pages, but the process also promotes a Google-only user experience”. Initially serving as conduit, Google can now serve as information destination.

Good examples, but this point may be best illustrated by the social media giant Facebook. In Jose Van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity, she groups platforms into different categories but quickly notes that these lines blur as platforms break boundaries to serve various niches. She explains how Facebook’s frictionless sharing “accommodate(s) users’ convenience when they move from Facebook to other platforms without hitting another key or needing an extra click” (58). The platform seeks to serve as gateway for your various activities.

OK, this principle may only be successfully executed by few. Just like content, I’d say your extended services must demonstrate relevance. Amazon is shopping – adding music and streamed television/movie services makes sense. Facebook is entertainment – serving as a link to other social platforms and games make sense. The ultimate take away is to keep your customers engaged by minimizing clicks to more.

Do you agree that convenience is the key to the heart of today’s consumers? Comment below with your thoughts!

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