Analog Vs. Digital: Room For Both?

October 16, 2017

Retail Touchpoints | October 16, 2017 – The world is flat…screened. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 81% of the developed world is online. And Global Digital reports more than half of the world’s web traffic comes from mobile devices. The proliferation of mobile and Internet usage is not news. The counter effect of the increase in analog, however, is.

What is analog? The textbook definition is data transmitted through a continuous stream. Conversely, digital is the transmission of data through a series of ones and zeros. Think VHS vs. Blu-ray. These terms, however, have taken on additional context. Digital has become synonymous with being fast and high-tech. Analog, in contrast, has come to mean nostalgic and authentic.

There have been several articles in the past extolling the virtues of going analog while simultaneously railing against digital. This article is not rehashing that thesis. In fact, there’s no stuffing the digital genie back in the bottle. Yet it seems the pendulum is swinging back to analog. Why?

We’re bombarded by digital content. Emails, texts, social media posts, online ads, the list goes on. We’re so inundated that the only way to cut through the digital clutter is to swing hard in the opposite direction and go analog.

Hand-written correspondence, crafting, film photography and vinyl are all experiencing a renaissance. Think of the weight of a fountain pen in your hand as it etches your thoughts onto a paper journal. Or the satisfying hisses and pops you hear when you listen to a record. These are visceral, authentic experiences, and a welcome respite from the digital world. Want to get completely off the grid? You can, with any number of digital detox vacations. So, what does this mean for retail?

Surprisingly, online brands are the ones leading the charge to revisit analog in retail. Amazon, Birchbox and Bonobos all have physical retail locations. The digital world gets it. Online retailers understand the benefits to having places where shoppers can experience their products and develop a richer connection with the brand that digital cannot replicate. Even when holographic and virtual reality technology get to a place where you can hold a virtual representation of an item, it still won’t compare to touching the real thing. Nor should it.

Digital and analog fulfill their own specific needs. It only seems the pendulum is swinging back to analog because of novelty. We’ve been living in the digital world for so long now that for almost any product a touchscreen is de rigueur. What we’re really witnessing is a balancing act. The digital revolution is over. Yes, there will continue to be improvements, but the initial shock of going analog to digital is done. Now, we’re reinstating the best that analog has to offer and pairing it with the best that digital provides.

We want frictionless transactions, GPS navigation and the wealth of information available online just as much as we want to touch, taste, smell, hear and see the world around us. Retailers who think digital usurped analog’s position are woefully mistaken. And there’s a real danger for retailers who are racing to embrace digital at the expense of analog experiences. Consumers want both.

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