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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

[Image: Co-operative Heritage Trust]


Life planning

Some recent startups in the life and end-of-life planning space:

  • Bequest helps you “Plan for your future, no matter what life throws at you. Life insurance, wills and family wellbeing, all under one roof.”
  • Once I’ve Gone lets you “Do something great for your family. Once I’ve Gone stores all your important information and makes it available to the right people at the right time”
  • Legado is “your digital vault to store and share your most important documents, files, wishes and memories.”
  • Guidestick helps you “Raise funeral funds from friends & family”.

One major problem for any new market entrant in the life planning area is that today’s buyer doesn’t know if the supplier will still be around in 5, 10 or 30+ years to provide the service. Lots of life services are about longevity in some way: digital memorials, family’s emergency info, later life planning, wills, funeral wishes, and even “save this information X today and do Y with it in the future if trigger Z happens”. So services about longevity may need to be provided by suppliers with reassuring longevity, which may favour incumbent suppliers, or by those that create governance and operational mechanisms that mitigate the risk of the company running out of money.


Shopify: retail eating software eating retail

“The interesting question for Shopify is how far it can move from being a tool to becoming a network, and to become part of retail. And so (to close the loop), the idea that all of this will be swallowed by Amazon makes about as much sense as the idea that all physical retail would get swallowed by Walmart, not because of software but because of retail. So perhaps software isn’t eating retail - retail is eating software.”

That’s a good paragraph on Shopify, which has grown to 40% of Amazon’s sales volume. Shopify solved the selling-your-products-online problem in a different way: it isn’t competing with Amazon directly. Lessons for offline retail there too: don’t compete with online on price alone, because online has more scale to make microscopic margins work. Find a different angle. 

On software eating retail vs retail eating software, maybe it’s just that software remakes industries and then quietly recedes into the background, essential but invisible.

Related: Amazon is keeping an eye on things, buying Shopify competitor Selz this month.


Electric vehicles: closer to tipping point?

Ford announced that it would be all-electric in UK/EU by 2030, and that by 2026 all vehicles will have a zero-emissions version. Jaguar announced that all its cars will be “all-electric” by 2025.

A thinktank reckons oilcos need grants to put EV charging infrastructure onto their petrol station forecourts. Arguably the market will just push them there without the grants. The pace of battery and technology improvement is a challenge for charging infrastructure: if you install charging equipment today, do tomorrow’s better charging technologies make your EV station obsolete? Business models that rely on electricity charging margin may be more brittle than those that create many secondary and incidental sales for goods and services sold while the vehicle charges.

Speaking of which, the UK’s first dedicated EV charging station opened in December. They plan a network of 1,000 across the UK. The station has a lounge to hang out in while your car recharges, and of course shopping (it takes longer to recharge an EV than refuel a carbony car, so the shopping revenue opportunities are higher?).


500M dollar software design mistakes

This story goes straight into your digital transformation decks with a title like “UX design is worth 500m” or just “Have you seen this bank’s terrible software?” Someone at US bank Citi sent $500m to some third parties by mistake, who have been allowed to keep it by a court because it turned out they were actually owed that money. There is plenty of detail of the debt (sorry, paywall) and the case (sorry, long read). 

The interesting bit is that it happened because the software was So Poorly Designed that the bank staff had to do a clever fudge because the system didn’t cover their use case, and they also had to guess which checkboxes would make the clever fudge happen, which didn’t work.

Citi bank's software: hard to use

(Even if you don’t work in banking, you can tell it isn’t great.)

Systems that are opaque and illegible will have unintended effects. Designing software well - or even just well enough that the user understands what will and won’t happen when they click the buttons - sometimes has a half-billion dollar return on investment.


Buy now pay later

A Reuters/Credit Karma survey showed that 42% of US shoppers had used “buy now, pay later” services, that 40% of those had “missed more than one payment, and 72% of those saw their credit score decline”.

Buy Now Pay Later companies like Klarna have sufficiently adept risk models that they can bring the financing inside the shopping basket, where it actually influences the decision to purchase. This is good if you want to try items at home before committing to buy them. It is bad if you’re an impulse shopper. And it is worrying if you’re the regulator: Buy now, pay later firms such as Klarna face stricter controls.


Facebook vs Australia

Australia introduced some new regulation - the News Media Bargaining Code - which effectively forces online giants to share advertising revenue with news content publishers (or pay them directly). 

Google muttered something about switching off its search engine in Australia before going “Sigh, ok fine” and signing content deals with News Corp and other Strayan publishers. Facebook said they’d rather disallow news content for people and publishers in Australia. It turned into a kerfuffle as Facebook’s content filters inadvertently blocked government websites as well. Anyway, Facebook and the Australian gov kept talking and came to an agreement. Some interesting questions:

  • Will there be more regulation like this from other countries? Almost certainly.
  • Will this regulation support incumbents in both tech and news, raising the barrier to competition? Probably.
  • Is this an effective way to regulate Big tech? Unclear, because Big Tech is doing content deals on the side to avoid being caught in the regulation in the first place.
  • If Big Tech companies withhold services like Facebook did (temporarily), would that be an abuse of power? Perhaps.
  • Should this just apply to Big Tech and journalism, or should everyone who links to anything pay a link tax? Sounds like a bad idea when you put it like that (says a newsletter full of links).

Various things

Bulldoze the high street and build a giant park: is Stockton the future of Britain? - some towns are looking at permanently removing retail space, or rezoning it for residential use.

Walmart generates 69% online sales growth in Q4 - and plans wage increases for 425,000 Workers.

Unbuy: An exploration in anti-consumption.

Social businesses shut out of government support - most ethical banks don't offer bounce back loans, forcing hundreds of community-run businesses to close.

Find your digital service provider’s terms of service and track their changes - tools like these which let us all see changing terms of service and privacy are vital. 

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei diversifies into pig farming as smartphone sales fall. OK!

IKEA to discontinue its annual catalog, ending a 70-year run -  “emotional but rational decision”. (See also the last Yellow Pages in 2018 and the last Argos catalogue in 2020).


Co-op Digital news

Borrowing ways of working from the Digital team.


Thank you for reading

Thank you friends, readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend! If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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