Anyone involved in real estate should take note of the Amazon Dash Button. This little physical object, not much bigger than a USB memory stick, is a harbinger of huge change, and a stroke of genius.
Place it. Press it. Get it. That’s the line from Amazon. Stick a Tide dash button to your washing machine at home and when you’re running low just press it and bingo, a replacement will be on the way. Exclusive to Prime members it brings the ease of one click ordering to the real world. Bounty, Olay, Huggies, Gillette – think of a brand that you buy regularly and then think how easy this makes replenishing your stocks.
Then take it a step further, as they say they are. How about a washing machine with this functionality built in? Or a coffee machine that prompts restocking as the beans run low?
And then go one more step. What if this little button becomes even smaller and just ends up as a sticker, and the one press ordering option becomes a standard feature of any ‘consumer packaged good’? Then, instead of visiting the supermarket you simply tap on your product of choice to re-order. How about that for friction free capitalism?
And that is the point. The Amazon Dash button is an indicator of what becomes possible when you add a digital layer to the physical world. It shows how the physical world can be aligned with our digital lives. How making the physical world ‘smart’ can improve our lives.
In the real estate world we try and build physical spaces that transform the emotions of the people who use them. We aim to create environments that people enjoy being in, that make them happier, or more productive, or more relaxed, or more excited. Or any combination of emotions. But to date, these environments are dumb. They are simply what they are, lumps of concrete, or stone, or steel or glass. What we need is for these spaces to become smart, to offer up information on ‘the space around us’.
As the washing machine with a dash button prompts you for a refill, so in the workplace the same intelligence could apply. The meeting room should know it is not booked, the reception barrier should know you are allowed through, the air conditioning unit should tell you it’ll break down in five days and the lobby should tell you (as you like classical music) that there is a recital starting at 1 O’clock.
And then in retail a whole host of technologies are coming available that make the experience of shopping so much more pleasurable, entertaining, informative and rewarding. For it is becoming ever more true that in the same way we don’t need an office to do our work, we don’t need a physical shop to do our shopping. Only if the employer, or the retailer, can add another dimension, and provide something only available in the office or in-store will we bother to go there.
So whilst the retail industry believes it has found a saviour in ‘click and collect’ (especially in the UK but increasingly in the US) and one often hears talk of ‘I told you so – you need shops’, dash button type technology argues against complacency. Whilst variants could help make in-store shopping more enticing, this technology could enable people to luxuriate in the convenience of not having to schlep to the store.
When my home becomes smart enough to give me whatever I want pretty much on demand, why should I visit a store? The answer of course, is that a great store, with great merchandise and a rich digital layer, is the ultimate shopping experience. And a great office, full of bright, engaging and engaged people, is the ultimate work environment.
But the bar is getting ever higher. As life becomes more digitised, unless your space is great, it simply won’t be required. Physical real estate, without a digital layer, is dumb; and dumb isn’t enough anymore.
To the digital, the spoils.