Digital Society
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Digital Society

(R)e-tail Evolution

Gone are the days of physically skimming through a menu from your local Chinese take away, or scrolling through an Argos catalogue, making your very own wish list of what to get. Personally, I remember sitting on my grandma’s couch (who always had the latest catalogues), going through the products, section by section, picking what I’m going to buy when I’m a millionaire. Fast forward a decade, catalogue’s and menus are no longer as influential and useful as they once were. Given the incredible advancement of technology, in this digital society we live in, we no longer rely on paperback means of advertisement and engagement, with our favourite shops. Mobile applications are now available to anyone with a smartphone, by which we can view and purchase products and services, all through a few swipes and touches. The retail market has never been closer!


What is a digital society?

The society we live in is evolving rapidly, where technological advancements are occurring within the blink of an eye, often impacting our everyday actions. Officially, a digital society is one that is ‘modern and progressive’, created through the implementation and incorporation of ‘information and communication technologies’. In this, a major force is the information society, in which the use and manipulation of info has become influential to several societal domains, for instance politics, as well as ‘social and cultural endeavours. This has widened the opportunities exposed to everyday citizens, allowing them to engage with an abundance of activities and services, through the magical system of the internet. This has had a substantial impact on almost every retail sector, where the use of an online medium has changed the way their consumers interact with their products. This is emphasised in a statement by Martin Boyle, in the 2015 ‘A Digital Society; Rhetoric or Reality’ debate. He claimed ‘for the first time in 160 years more products will be sold online than in our branches’, signifying the need to adapt to an online market. Aiding to this, ‘the digital economy’ contributed a staggering £860 billion to the economy of the world, in 2014 alone. To put that into perspective, with the money contributed to the global economy, one could purchase almost every football side in all of Europe’s top tiers, whilst still having enough money to buy a few super cars and retire happily! The shift from a mass production/mass consumer culture, to an adaption to the constant changing needs of the customers, has never been more evident as it is now!

Don’t cook Just Eat!

Who remember the times when a single drawer in their kitchen, being stuffed with almost every local restaurant and take-away’s menus? I certainly do, and it certainly wasn’t helpful! Back then, by the time you’ve dug out your preferred menu, decided what to eat, and come to a collective decision (which is still an issue), you are no longer hungry. However, ordering food is now simple, efficient, and very satisfying. Through the digital market, utilising application such as Just Eat, food lovers around the nation can surf through a plethora of restaurants, catering to the tastes of everyone. If you want an Indian cuisine, a Chinese chippy, or even a simple British pie, whatever you like is available from your device. This availability of a large range of products, spoils the consumer, giving them an incredible array of choice. The benefits for us consumers go without saying, but the companies who are promoted by services such as Just Eat and Uber Eats reap the rewards, as their services are being promoted at a much larger scale as compared to individual promotion, which was often the default method of advertising in the past. As a result, we get good food, the companies get good exposure; it’s a win-win!

‘ Don’t cook — JUST EAT’. Credits: Gordon Joly, available to reuse (Filckr).

The fashion marketplace

Just like food is a necessity for us humans, clothing is also something we cannot live without. Unless of course you’re a caveman, or a permanent underwear model! The fashion industry has become revolutionised, where just like food, clothing and accessories can be purchased from the click of a button. The biggest retail stores now often depend on their online exposure to make substantial profit, as this method of shopping is regularly preferred to the physical in-store purchasing. Going to a shopping centre, visiting the shops is now more of a leisure activity, than a necessity, as we now have more availability and greater choice through online shopping. This is something I can relate with, as for the past four to five years, I have not been able to find anything that I like or suit, when physically shopping. However, when browsing online, I am spoilt for choice (even though my entire wardrobe looks exactly the same). The freedom and flexibility of this mode of shopping, allows consumers to view products wherever they are, on the bus, on your sofa, even on the moon (if there’s Wi-Fi there of course!). One of the most successful and varied retailers of fashion items is Asos, who base their company solely on the online platform. Established in 2000, the company prides itself on ‘freedom’ for the consumer, as well as providing a service ‘for all’. Asos provides fashion lines from over ‘700 boutiques’, providing a unique and diverse shopping experience for their customers. Even though the company has always had an online presence, they regularly adapt to the ever-changing needs of the consumers. Their brilliant mobile app is evidence of this. Looking at the numbers, the mobile application has been downloaded over 10 million times, generating more than half of their overall purchases, in the UK. Their app is something even I enjoy shopping with, given its simplicity and incredible choice and variety; it provides the ultimate shopping experience for us!

‘ ASOS Selvedge Slim Fit Jeans — label’. Credits: Guy Sie, available to reuse (Flickr).

Social Marketing

The utilisation of an online platform for the exchange of goods has proven to be a highly effective and prosperous technique for businesses. Complimenting this is the use of social media for marketing, where companies promote products to social media users, often through ‘surveillance capitalism’. This is a concept, theorises by Zuboff, claiming that companies access your data, to promote products which would appeal to you. So, have you ever searched for a lawn mower and then seen pictures of lawn mowers, with the best offers for them on your Facebook feed? You probably haven’t, but something similar. This is done through data extraction, where the businesses take the data from your internet, to build a consumer profile for you. Although this can be seen as intrusive, I believe it makes shopping much more convenient and simple, allowing you to be targeted with content that is relevant to your needs.

Social media platforms can however act as a market, in a less controversial and intrusive manner, through their social profile. This has been adopted by the juggernaut Asos, whose Instagram profile has proved to be hugely popular, engaging with their consumers in a much more interactive way. As many of us may remember, Asos took full advantage last year in interacting with their followers, asking them to upload videos of their Asos purchases, to which over 3 million people responded. The instant link, available to their Instagram followers to purchase the products they see, makes it even easier for the public to consume, as all it takes is a swipe for the users, to access their online shop.

Asos Instagram page. Credits: Aleena Imran (permission given).


Upon reflection, this module has allowed me to develop my understanding of technology and communication, in a digital medium. I have been made aware of the implications of living in a digital society, factors of which I was oblivious to prior to this (oh the ignorance!). This has allowed me to critically analyse aspects of digital technology that I am exposed to, viewing the positive, as well as negative and potentially detrimental, elements. I’ll now hold my phone and think about the surveillance around it, making me question how I use it, not knowing who’s watching, who’s listening through my microphone, who’s viewing my messages. But, the good side to this is that it ensures I am always behaving, well at least trying to behave.

The engaging nature of this course has allowed me to interact with different people, gaining an insight into different viewpoints, which have proved to be very interesting. Without this communication, we are oblivious to knowing the opinions of other members of society, which is key. This aspect has broadened my thinking of technology, especially regarding the internet, as I have been exposed to varied opinions, predominantly about the security and privacy of this system.

Although I was already familiar with the concept of writing blogs, aimed at an online audience, the practices of this course have made my understanding and application a lot more sophisticated, paying attention to the conventions of writing, as well as the more technological aspects, such as correct referencing. Also, the exposure to Medium, for the first time, has proved very interesting and different, adopting a more interactive method of learning. All in all, Digital Society has been thoroughly enjoyable!





Exploring how digital technologies shape society: challenges, themes and implications. Featuring student and staff writers. Views expressed are those of their authors and not necessarily the University of Manchester.

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Usama Ali

Usama Ali

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