Does tech empower people to make informed choices?

'Virtually every online product is selected for us by algorithms'

Are we all now slaves to the algorithm, or is technology putting power back in the hands of the people? We asked a few people in our network for their thoughts and insight.

Al Ward — Head of Commerce at Brave Bison

Al Ward

Today’s technology is undoubtedly the ‘make or break’ for fostering responsible choices in the marketplace. This comes with great responsibility for tech and marketing leaders, as they need to increasingly consider how best to steer consumers towards making informed and sustainable purchases. Composable systems offer advantages in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness, but also present a more sustainable choice for businesses in terms of their digital carbon footprints. As upcoming legislation mandates businesses to disclose their carbon emissions, it becomes imperative for all to opt for greener solutions — so, considering composable systems becomes a must. But, a composable strategy needs to be effective — so it’s crucial to devise a cohesive plan.

This might mean adopting caching strategies through headless architecture or delivering content locally. Additionally, conducting thorough research on sustainable business practices for the readiness of a business is essential. Through implementing composable systems, tech leaders can ensure they’re minimising the carbon impact of a consumer’s purchase — this is a moral essential. Businesses don’t need to do everything at once — starting small and then scaling up is typically the most effective.

Jade Fitzgerald — Experience Design Director at Beyond

Jade Fitzgerald

Technology is agnostic when it comes to empowering consumers — it has the power to improve people’s experiences when used properly, and inhibit them when used improperly.

AI is effective at providing clear and adaptable information to consumers, tailored to the user. In many ways, sophisticated AI has the potential to take the place of an in-store shop assistant, providing a service that is personalised to the consumer. Technology arguably makes the experience of choosing products much easier by ‘understanding’ the patterns and behaviours of the shopper to make specialised recommendations. Provided today’s tech is built with diversity and ethics as part of its foundation, in a world where we have an abundance of choice, being empowered by having the option to pick the most appropriate products for you with the assistance of technology can only be a positive addition.

Colin O’Riordan — Senior Digital Strategist at Brandwidth

Colin O’Riordan

In today’s tech-driven world, it’s highly unlikely you will find someone making a significant purchase or investment without first carrying out some basic online research. And for those who want to go further, technology gives consumers unprecedented opportunities to make informed decisions around purchases: from reading reviews, to comparing prices and even evaluating the environmental impact of a potential product, all of this and more can be easily accessed within seconds on devices. However, it’s also important to recognise that this abundance of information or ‘noise’ online can sometimes overwhelm some consumers. Conflicting opinions can lead to confusion, eroding confidence and causing consumers to second guess themselves. Being able to effectively navigate the digital space and critically evaluate the information they consume is therefore crucial.

Brands which recognise this challenge are placing an increased emphasis on managing their online presence and reputation. In doing so, they are more likely to provide consumers with the reassurance and confidence they seek when they are conducting their research.

Gabriel Marquez — Board Advisor at ustwo

Gabriel Marquez

The modern digital ecosystem allows more types of companies to reach a wider market faster than at any time in history. But, that very volume of choices has made the job of sorting through those products for you much more consequential. 

As any good pollster will tell you, choice is not only the sum of decisions you make, but also the options presented to you. Increasingly, those options are given to us based on algorithms informed by an incredibly detailed picture of our lives. Virtually every product we encounter online is selected for us by algorithms managed by a relatively small number of companies. In 2023, more than 60% of global digital advertising money went to three companies. While advertising is not new, the scale and consolidation achieved by these algorithms has allowed them to be much more comprehensive and effective in their mindshare and impact. That’s not to suggest malfeasance, or even mal-intent, simply that algorithms are determining what products you encounter and they are tenacious in ensuring you choose from among those products.

Featured image: Antonio Batinić / Pexels