Control Freak

11/26/2012
The Unwired ubertrend is fueling a powerful subtrend: Control Freak. Spurred by its ability to free users from wires, and jazzed by instant gratification, consumers are increasingly demanding greater control over transactions.

In December 2001, I flew Air Canada, using United as a feeder. United lost my suitcase but Air Canada was one of the first airlines to offer passengers the ability to track lost luggage. Today, you can track luggage using Delta’s mobile app, pointing to a future where self-service tracking will be widespread.

Realtime tracking is one of the most powerful functions offered by digital technology, propelling its adoption by other industries. Domino’s now lets U.S. customers track their pizza order via their website or iPhone app.

Domino’s TrackerThe Control Freak trend is spreading thanks to innovative consumer-facing solutions like Domino’s Tracker, which lets you track your pizza via the web or iPhone app. Expect tracking to become a big business.

In February 2006, Libby Copeland observed in The Washington Post: “There’s something peculiarly modern about this [pickiness] phenomenon, something aligned with our dark privilege of too much, this consumeriffic culture in which jeans and houses and breasts and ring tones are customizable.”

What Copeland exposed in “Picky, Picky” was the growing control-freak syndrome in dating. The impact of this trend is best illustrated by the popular web service package tracking.

On any given day, UPS handles 22.7 million tracking requests, while FedEx handles 6.5 million more. That’s nearly 30 million control-freak commands issued each day.

If only the U.S. Postal Service could offer the same type of tracking of regular mail as FedEx and UPS do for packages, it might have avoided the $16 billion loss in its most recent fiscal year.

Self check outSelf-check-out cash registers are a manifestation of consumer control. At first they were unpopular, now people line up to use them. Similarly, more than 70% of travelers check in for flights using airport kiosks, and 70% say they’d tag their own bag if it were allowed.

Armed with intelligent, instant-gratification devices, consumers wield growing clout, which only serves to feed the control freak beast. Yelp’s augmented reality browsing app, which layers its review database over a view of your surroundings, is already rendering hotel concierges superfluous.

Being in control can certainly be liberating, suggesting that the successful marketer of the future will let consumers control the process.

Singles Nation

Untethering is the ultimate expression of freedom, a key Unwired ubertrend consumer value, which may also be to blame for another modern trend, the uncoupling of relationships. Like the rest of the world, the U.S. is slowly becoming a nation of singles.

Married-couple households have declined from 80% in the 50s to just 51% today. In 2000, for the first time, households with people living alone outnumbered households with couples and children, 26% to 24%, the latter figure down sharply from 1970’s 40%.

As a result, the number of singles in the U.S. has surged to 90 million. And the trend is spreading globally. More than half, 54%, of Japanese women in their late 20s are single, up from 31% in 1985. And about half of single Japanese women ages 35 to 54 have no intention to marry.

That mirrors a U.S. trend. In 2009, for the first time the proportion of people ages 25-34 who have never been married exceeded those who were married — 46.3% versus 44.9%, according the Population Reference Bureau.

Another standout fact: 45% of primetime viewers now watch TV by themselves, versus 31% a decade ago, according to a December 2004 Knowledge Networks study. Watching TV together is so unusual that researchers now have a term for it, “co-viewing.”