They are not alone – many sectors fail to grasp the potential of the web
Let’s get this out in the open straight away, I admire London Cabbies, the ones who drive those box-shaped black taxis. Their knowledge of London is renowned worldwide and their friendliness and chattiness is legendary. So before they gang together to stop taking my fare, let me tell them straight – I think you do a great job guys.
Today, many London taxi drivers are demonstrating against “Uber” the private car hire service which is based on a smartphone app and self-employed car owners. Uber has come to London and you can get a car by logging on to the app and booking the nearest car to you. It is like hailing a cab, but with your phone rather than waving your hand in the air.
In London, only licensed black cabs are allowed to stop when you stick up your hand. Private hire cars have to be pre-booked to collect you from a specific point – you can’t just get one of them by standing on a street corner. The convenience of the black cab is wonderful.
However, the taxi drivers are claiming that Uber is changing the industry and providing a service that is technically against the rules. Whether or not they can argue a legal case is one thing. The reality is that Uber is responding to changing definitions of convenience.
In the past it was convenient to stand at the side of the road, stick your arm in the air as a yellow light on a taxi approached you and have it stop by your side. Nowadays, to many people, that is less convenient than using fingers and thumbs on a smartphone.
Convenience drives choice
Convenience is an important psychological driver for what we do. Our brain constantly seeks the ways of doing things that need the least amount of effort as part of our in-built survival strategies. Using a smartphone is more convenient. You can sit in a coffee shop, order the nearest car and wait inside until the car arrives. Or you can go outside, wander up and down in the rain and then hail a taxi.
The second option was more convenient before Uber came along. Now, the convenience of hailing a cab is psychologically less appealing to our sense of survival.
Yet all of this was predictable. Uber has brought together private car owners with a smartphone. The app merely provides a clever connection. Rather than having to call several private hire companies to find a convenient car, you just have to log onto the app and click to get the closest.
The London Cabbies rightly want to defend their jobs and their industry. We would all do the same if our traditions were under attack. But I suspect if we go back in time, those horse-drawn hansom cab drivers would have thought the new-fangled motorised things were dreadful.
Change will affect your business soon
What this issue really shows us is that we are in a period of history of tremendous change. Every sector is threatened by rapid progress, often as happens for the London Cabbies, from outside the industry.
Yet we can prepare ourselves. We need to keep up-to-date with what is going on online. We need to make sure we know what new technologies are being introduced. We need to consider how these changes may affect our business. Just like London Cabbies, many traditional business sectors have poor knowledge about what Internet technologies can mean for them. Sure, they know what the web can do from a marketing sense, but few sectors seem to consider what the Internet means for their entire business arena. After all, online retail was not invented by retailers. They have largely been left behind by the people who pioneered online retail, who had no retail background to start with. Similarly, the world’s leading search business before the Internet was Yellow Pages, but they were left standing by people from outside the world of search.
Taxi drivers could be next. Their sector could be left standing by Uber which was created not by people from the taxi industry, but by two entrepreneurs who had spent their business life on firms which share bookmarks on the web, such as StumbleUpon. This is a regular occurrence online – people who understand the Internet well can disrupt traditional sectors.
It is about time those traditional sectors started to get the Internet knowledge so they can protect themselves from future change. Had the London Cabbies done that a few years ago, they might not have to protest against Uber today. And if several retailers had done that a few years back, they wouldn’t keep complaining about Amazon. And if Yellow Pages had done that, you might never have heard of Google.
Your business sector’s future depends upon deep understanding of the Internet so you can predict potential changes and plan how you will deal with them.