For centuries, the prevailing rule that dominated commerce has been Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware. Implicit in this rule is that it is up to the purchasers of a good, be it retail or wholesale, to understand the quality and price of what they are buying and act accordingly. The advantage is almost entirely to the seller, given a detailed knowledge of the item, its provenance, strengths and weaknesses, price (particularly in the local market) and the efficacy of important terms and conditions, such as warranties.
This edge is sometimes described as information asymmetry in which the knowledge necessary to make a satisfactory purchase is a lot more difficult to assemble for the buyer. In recent years however the emergence of consumerized internet and the powerful information exchanges enabled by the internet have subverted this balance. Buyers are now equipped with the broadest possible reach into global markets and have near if not complete function, performance and price transparency. Buyers can use social media to tap into the experience of previous purchasers who seem only too happy to share the good and, more frequently, the bad news about a product. Buyers can go out to YouTube and see the product demonstrated and receive a tutorial by a previous purchaser about how exactly easy it is to install.
Now, to be successful, the commercial transaction must meet the Starbucks Challenge. Can the desired good be successfully purchased while waiting/killing the time it takes to order and pick up your latte? The item in question can be an airplane ticket, a commercial grade HVAC unit, an equity option or a pair of stiletto heels.
This weighting toward the buyer’s information asymmetry requires goods providers to proactively reach forward into their potential marketplaces to best understand, engage with, influence and learn from potential buyers and stakeholders to buying decisions. Public and private enterprises are learning to approach these front-end Demand Chain aspects of their businesses in as disciplined a fashion as they have done with their Supply Chains.
The following is a table that summarizes some of the primary technology building blocks that underpin robust demand chains in Digitally Enhanced Businesses (DEBs):
|Internet||Provide instant access to 3 billion customers, retail and wholesale, globally||A great leveler that permits raw start-ups to appear as established players, and established players to appear as innovators||All Categories|
|Big Data||Capture, retain and analyze relevant bits of information about customers, products markets and competitors||Both Structured and Unstructured Data mined to develop inferences, effects about customer needs as well as competitive positioning||All, but Expansionists, Fulfillers and Platform Impresarios are best advantaged by large, existing data|
|Mobile Technologies, Tools & Apps||Put Product Pricing, Selection, Service and Support tools in the hands of consumers at throughout THEIR experience cycle||Customers frequently have more information at their fingertips than sales or customer service reps they are negotiating with. At the very least, you must level your playing field.||Neutral – useful to all categories|
|Cloud||Third Party services rapidly, relatively inexpensively and broadly available on demand||Provides technology operations, information availability and networking infrastructure||Alchemists Flattens start up costs Permits rapid scaling|
|Social Networking||Internet Based Communities of Interest, Purpose or Support||Facilitates viral marketing, support, consumer feedback and competitive information, Can also be the basis for collaborative enhancement of the provider.||Alchemists who reduce advertising, promotional costs Expansionists who create new brands away from existing demographics|
|Analytics||Provide actionable insights that can make a material impact on the providers success or the buyers satisfaction||Many markets are too broad, highly fragmented and rapidly changing for gut feels or relatively simple & infrequent sampling to keep up||All Categories|