In brief

In brief

  • Recent research by Accenture reveals the key factors that will determine success in a digital + physical + human future.
  • More and more platform companies are evolving their business models to take them beyond their digital roots.
  • Does the success they’ve enjoyed in the digital arena guarantee an easy transition to winning in the physical world?

Bringing digital, physical and human together

A number of clear trends have helped to drive the ceaseless growth of platform companies during the last few years. Faster connectivity and smartphone adoption are approaching ubiquity. Social platforms have become ever more enmeshed in the fabric of society.

A whole generation of consumers is now unaware of a pre-internet world.

No less significant has been the expansion of many of digital-born businesses beyond their original domain. For example, Google and Snap have both designed and launched physical devices, including smartphones, smart speakers and smart glasses, with some moves proving smarter than others. Uber’s expanded into not only ferrying people and delivering food but also providing the centralized kitchens restaurants need to cater for online diners. Facebook acquired Oculus to provide virtual reality headsets. And Amazon has moved well beyond e-commerce, through physical stores (Whole Foods), physical devices (Echo) and human-centric services such as Amazon smart home advisors.

New services like these reach users and interact with them across three distinct sets of edge experiences:

Digital experiences:

Through digital endpoints such as smartphones and PC screens, smart speakers and AR/VR equipment

Physical experiences:

Through physical environments, smart appliances, connected products and vehicles

Human experiences:

Through representatives, either employed by the company or acting through an agency model on behalf of the company

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Critically, it’s how these edge experiences are combined to create a relevant service that gives companies a chance to differentiate in an increasingly crowded marketplace. For example, when a diner orders food delivery from an app, receives it on their doorstep and interacts with the delivery person, they are using a service that includes all three edge experience elements: digital, physical and human.

Limits of digital trust

Most consumers entering a new retail experience provided by a platform business bring the same expectations as they carry through the door of an established brick and mortar retailer. Consumers welcome more opportunities to interact with a brand. In fact, nearly 40 percent of them say that they would be interested in having a smart home with all devices and services provided by a single brand.

But that welcome is far from open-ended. For example, almost half of all consumers say that they would have safety concerns riding in a car provided by a platform company and four out of 10 say that they would not trust a social media company’s home devices. Digital brands that are famous for disrupting a market have also raised the bar for consumer expectations for interactions in the physical world.

RELATED: Platforms: Where the Digital and Physical Worlds Meet InformationWeek (March 27, 2019)

It's not all about digital


Of consumers prefer placing a food order online, then having it delivered to your door.


Of consumers prefer ordering a product online and picking it up at a pre-assigned locker at a nearby convenience store.


Of consumers prefer to select a city tour online and then experience it in person.


Of consumers prefer using a voice-enabled assistant through the same company's smart speaker system.

Smartphones rule; voice is getting louder

There’s little sign that today’s digital devices will disappear from consumers’ lives any time soon. Smartphones rule across all age groups and in every area of activity—social media interactions, ride-sharing, entertainment and commerce—look set to remain the dominant go-to device in the medium term. But it’s a different story for desktop and laptop PCs. While these remain relatively popular among older users (46 years+), younger consumers (18-25 years) are moving on fast.

Across all four areas of activity, demand for voice is real and growing. While still at a relatively low level of adoption, this category displays the highest predicted growth of all—for example, more than doubling over the next 12 months as a preferred way of hailing a ride. However, people don’t want voice everywhere. We found that just 31 percent said they’d like "always-on" services inside the home. What about AR and VR? Are they the next big thing? Our survey suggests that their time is yet to come. Younger users are most enthusiastic about these technologies. Forty percent of 18- to 25 year-olds say augmented reality is an important feature for their next smartphone, almost double the number of 36- to 55 year-olds who say it matters to them.

The one thing that all consumers say that they want more than anything else? A single device that they can use to access all their favorite digital services.

Implications for platform companies

Our research overwhelmingly shows that consumers are hungry for and willing to explore new experiences. But digging deeper, we found that their perceptions and preconceptions create a more complex and differentiated future marketplace.

It’s vital therefore that platform companies considering or launching new services have a very clear and granular understanding of their target market. Every company in this position should position themselves for success by assessing at least these basic questions:

  • What can they learn from their previous beyond-digital ventures?
  • What is their customer base telling them in terms of how far they will allow them to move?
  • Which elements of edge services will be most important/valuable in their new service design?
  • How can they test and learn intelligently?
  • How can they maintain trust, security and quality as you scale out the new service?
  • How can they achieve scale and availability in a shared asset/agency model?

Listen to hear more about our research

Martin Stoddart, Principal Director, Accenture

Blurred lines: Digital meets physical

00:00 / 00:00

Robin Murdoch

Managing Director – Software & Platforms, Global Lead

Kevin Collins

Managing Director – Software & Platforms, Innovation & Offerings, Global

Martin Stoddart

Principal Director – Software & Platforms


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