We now have such novel technology that we haven't even discovered all the uses for it. The world is changing in ways only science fiction novelists ever predicted, and business is part of this changing world. But is business changing because of the world, or the world because of business? The answer is much like how life imitates art which imitates life. Businesses have to change to adapt to the changing world – the landscape of commerce is part of that world – but there are some novel businesses that are affecting the world in huge ways.
The businesses in this article are prime examples of those adapting to the times. They aren't ray gun manufacturers that would really only change the world by putting ray guns into it; they're businesses that are transforming or replacing existing industries, or creating a service that has never existed before.
Some of these businesses have set out specifically to improve the world, or a specific industry. Some just to create a new product that would take the world by storm. All of them have succeeded in bringing something into existence that simply didn't before. In so doing they've begun sounding the death knell for the businesses that they compete with.
In some cases the change has begun, but is happening slowly and surely. In other cases, such as with online retailers, the change has been dramatic and obvious. In all cases, thanks to these businesses, the world will never be the same.
Love it or hate it, you're never going to step into another Blockbuster video rental store. You never have to pay any more money for any item than you can find it anywhere in the country. You never have to pay another electric bill or buy another tank of gas. The world has changed quite a bit in only a few years, and it'll keep transforming even faster. Here are five movers that are making it happen.
5 5: Renewable Energy
If you were to judge energy by the old equation of scarce and/or difficult to produce = expensive, then you might think energy is hard to find or create. After all, we pay plenty for it. Heating our homes, zapping our food, keeping our various glowing rectangles jabbering – all this takes energy and if it beeps it costs us our cold hard cash. The energy bill is one of those inescapable costs of living that you have to factor into your living expenses. After all, we aren't wild animals. We need our air conditioning and iPods!
The energy monopolies – and, in most places, you do not have a choice what energy company you use – know this. And they charge accordingly. In other words, they charge far, far too much money. And while they're doing that, the coal and gas and oil and other natural resources that they use to power their engines are dwindling. The by-products of their process are damaging our ecosystem. And their time is coming to an end.
The renewable energy sector is growing at an impressive rate. Just a few years ago, Germany produced more than 25% of its energy from renewable sources such as wind farms, solar fields and biomass conversion. Several countries – such as Denmark and Scotland – have made it their goal to have 100% of their energy generated by renewable sources.
How will this change the world? First of all, renewable energy production costs less in the long run, meaning the consumer could potentially be charged less for their growing energy needs. Secondly, renewable energy produces few to no carbon emissions, and that's good for your lungs and global warming. Thirdly, unless traditional energy companies get on board, the moment consumers have a real choice they're going to jump ship. Many homeowners who have taken the solar plunge will never look back. Why? Because they never, ever have to pay a power bill again. Some months the power company even pays them for the unused power they generate.
Power company paying you? Yup. The future is shiny.
4 4: The Electric Car
The electric car is another one of those game-changing technologies that you think is game-changing for one reason but is actually revolutionary for another. You think that the electric car is new-world-making because it's a zero emission vehicle you don't have to buy gas for. But, no, that's not it. We've always had electric trains. We've had electric vehicles for decades, and even had the technology for a practical electric car for many years. What the Tesla company has done is made an electric car sexy, and terrified traditional car manufacturers and dealerships in the process.
Don't think current dealerships are scared? Several states have already banned the sale of Tesla vehicles within their borders at the behest of established dealerships. The actual law states that it is illegal to directly sell a car from the manufacturer to the public. You just have to, in NJ, go through a dealership. Other states are mulling over following suit under pressure from their dealers.
Just imagine, if you will, that the same rule applied to computers. Imagine if you were not allowed to purchase an iPad from the Apple store. You were forced to go to BestBuy or Walmart. Now let's say that Apple no longer wanted to do business with those retailers, and only an Apple product would satisfy you. You wouldn't be alone. Lots of people want Apple products just like legions have been awaiting the practical, fun, all-electric car. The fight over who and where gets to sell Tesla vehicles is going to change the face of car sales in the United States and, for once, the free market really will be determined by what people actually want.
3 3: Downloadable/Streaming Media
It was the beginning of the end, as far as publishers were concerned, when online publications started to become more and more popular. It wasn't long until Barnes and Nobles' and Borders Bookstores nationwide began shuttering their windows and clearing their shelves under the weight of e-readers. And then came the knockout punch for video rental stores: Netflix.
Digitally delivered media has already changed the world. It's not that it's immediately available. It's not that it doesn't require you to leave your house, or even your couch. It's not even that you'll never get all the way home and realize someone left a copy of Howard The Duck in the Saving Private Ryan DVD case. It's that it's cheap.
There's no retail location cost. There's no delivery cost. There's no packaging cost. The overhead for digital media from books to movies to games isn't nil, but it's pretty darn close. Netflix, the PlayStation and Xbox stores, OnDemand – all have much higher profit margins than brick and mortar stores.
The best part of this is that they can take glorious risks. Anyone can publish on Amazon. They don't have to worry about selecting authors for their shelf space. Indie game developers can sell their games easily online. Apps and more popular games can get their time in the spotlight in sponsored stores. Digital media gives everyone from the consumer to the creator exactly what they want.
2 2: Online Delivery Companies
For as long as there have been stores they have operated on a very simple principle: Screw the consumer out of as much money as possible. The same is true for Internet companies. The difference is that the Internet companies can't screw you quite as easily.
Retail locations are just that: Locations. As in geographically in one place. They only really have to compete, on price, with the other stores within reasonable travel distance that sell the same thing you're looking to buy. On the Internet, that means competing with everybody else on the Internet. Travel time: Zero. And, unless you give me a compelling reason, I'm not paying a penny more than I have to for anything. Stores like Amazon even have the price comparison done for you right there so you know exactly how much each seller is charging.
How does this affect a retail location? Well, besides the fact that each retail location costs a lot of money in rent and inventory and personnel, they now have to compete with internet prices. Unless you really, desperately need that new toothbrush right now, you can see it in the store, hold it in your hand, and then find the best price and order it online.
BestBuy recently announced multiple store closures. Online pressure is the reason why.
1 1: Free Voice And Video Conferencing
There are a number of solutions you can use if you want to argue with your family from far away. The most popular is the telephone, and the most people have cell phones. In fact, for many people, the cell phone is their only phone. An interesting trend between cell phone companies is price competition. Cell phone subscription prices have been steadily declining. Some providers even offer some pretty nice prepaid, or zero-commitment plans that won't cost you all too much. But they do cost more than nothing. Many apps provide the same service for absolutely zilch.
Skype, Google Hangouts and a huge host of other voice and video-conferencing software offer a great alternative to cellphone subscriptions. A number of people have ditched their plans and used the wifi capability of their phones and laptops for all of their telecommunications needs. Yes, you will be charged to talk to non-chat phones, but you won't be for software-to-software calls.
How this is changing the world is simple: People are already fed up with their cell phone plans. The big telecom companies gouge on price for whatever they can get away with without providing any superior service. Whenever a subscription-only cell phone company lowers its prices dramatically, it just happens to be to match the unlimited, subscription-free price of the competition. As wifi connectivity becomes more and more ubiquitous the need for a cell phone contract will continue to disappear, and free communications solutions will be the nail in the coffin.