To Forecast the Future, Look Outside Your Industry

by Neil Blumenthal

The most powerful influences likely come from outside your company's sphere, not from within it. Warby Parker, the company I co-founded, sells eyewear. But we aren’t looking at competitive threats within the eyewear industry, because there simply isn’t a great deal of innovation within the eyewear industry.

Instead, we’re looking at companies like Amazon, which hugely change customer perceptions and expectations about things that affect Warby Parker —like how easy it is to order something online (or through other internet-enabled methods like Echo and the Dash button) and, of course, how quickly that item arrives.

Amazon has trained customers to expect items to arrive within two days. Or sometimes even within one day. I was reminded of this when I recently bought a pair of pants at a boutique in New York. It took two and a half weeks to get the pants tailored, and then a series of phone calls to figure out when I could pick up the pants or whether they’d send the pants to me. By the time the pants came, I’d spent way more time thinking about pants logistics than I ever wanted to.  And, while it may sound crazy, I really believe that I don't enjoy wearing the pants as much as I would have had they arrived on time without a hassle. One's perception of a product is based on the entirety of the brand experience — from the moment someone hears about the brand to their decision to shop, to selecting an item, transacting, waiting for the product to arrive, unboxing and using the product over time.

Uber is another example. On the surface, we have little in common with a mobile ride hail company. But Uber influences UX and customer interaction experiences for every company in every industry. For a prime example, I don’t have to look any further than myself! I often use Uber, but on the occasions when I do hail a yellow cab, I find myself noticing anew all the unnecessary steps built into the process: telling the driver your address, paying with a credit card, selecting a tip, and sometimes signing a physical receipt.

A third example is GrubHub Seamless. Out of convenience (and a regrettable lack of cooking ability), I often order food online from local restaurants. Remember when you had to phone a restaurant to place an order? And read your credit card number three times over the phone? And you always ended up standing in that weird corner of your apartment that didn’t get service? None of this needs to happen anymore. We can order with a click. Why cultivate patience when instant gratification is so easy to obtain?

Ultimately, it pays to get a broader view of how a handful of companies are redefining how we shop, eat, drive, and live. If you want to forecast the future of your own industry, look outside of it.