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The Tables Have Turned: Why Corporate Transparency is No Longer a Choice

Product, packaging, and in-store experience designers, take Note: The power of technology is in the hands of consumers. If a company is not transparent, consumers increasingly have the power to see through walls, and the result of information being difficult to find, if at all, is likely damage to the brand loyalty relationship. This seems obvious, but the number of companies who have not yet understood this is unbelievable.

There was once a time when companies could control the information available to the public about their products via public relations, catchy claims, chosen reviewers and packaging.  Before the internet, researching the quality, health effects, eco-friendliness, social responsibility or sustainability of food and products was quite difficult, and for companies transparency was not an issue.

Research from Google, October 2014: "Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping." In-store shopping behavior and expectations were studied in three verticals: retail, tech, and CPG (food, home care, personal care, beauty care).  These numbers have likely increased since 2014.

However, the internet also gave rise to the cognitive overload many people feel today, which prevented many from doing the research they would like to do. But the rapid rise smartphone technology has changed all that.

From Google's: "Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping”, 2014.

It is now possible, and easy, through search and many smartphone apps to research products in-store. And it has become the norm. Customers have gotten a taste of the power these technologies give them as individuals, and want more.  In fact, they expect it and are frustrated when they can't immediately find information they want.  Customer-centricity demands it.

From Google’s: "Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping”, 2014.

Unfortunately many companies we encounter (especially those lead by people from an older generation) seem not to understand the full, even radical, consequences of this tectonic shift: transparency is no longer a choice, technology is forcing the practice.

Shopsavvy and Můj Nákup, are just two of manz many apps available that let customers instantly compare prices. 

 And it is much more than just comparison shopping, there are apps for just about every conceivable kind of product information, such carbon footprint, sources of ingredients, harmful elements of the supply chain, harmful effects to society, economy, or the environment.

 Good Guide gives a breakdown of the health, environment and societal impacts of products in easy to read info graphics. 

There are now scanners coming on the market that allow customers to chemically analyze the content of products, even through packaging (if it is transparent). These type of apps will be especially damaging for companies who use misleading labeling practices or use the still-common practice of selling the same product, in different packaging for two different prices for different market segments.

New apps such as Tellspec and SCiO, use new chip technology and spectrometry to scan and analyze the chemical content of food in-store. 

It is also important to note, that it no longer takes the resources of a mega corporation to produce such democratizing technological powers.  The above scanners were initially funded via crowd sourcing sites, such as Kickstarter. 

One such app that recently hit the Czech Republic, was developed by only three people and helps people make socially and democratically responsible buying decisions.

Screen shots of the extremely simple and popular Bez Andreje app.

Whatever a customer's opinion of the finance minister of the Czech Republic, Andreje Babeš, that is not important. However, for customers who want to know what products in stores are from companies owned by him, for whatever reason, this app will tell them in a just a few of seconds. 

The Bez Andreje app was created by Ivo, Martin, and Petr Vytrhlík.

The Point:  The world has changed. Transparency is no longer a choice.  If information about your product is unavailable, or even just hard to find, that is a reason many customers will use to look elsewhere.  For a company with information it would rather not be widely known, or even a company who is not forthcoming with information about its products, all it takes is one social media savvy person with a smart phone, and your brand relationship and loyalty that took years to build may be out the window overnight.

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