The goal of connecting consumers with businesses has remained unchanged for thousands of years. But the manner in which that connection with customers is made evolves with technology, time and culture. Broadband-based e-Commerce is just the latest variation. To understand the challenges that businesses face in developing a more technologically savvy business and the benefits to those that are further along in the process, we surveyed 77 vendors in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a historic tourist spot and favorite local attraction that attracts 10 million visitors annually.
One vendor stated that having a website is “as important as having a business card. Indeed, not having a business website to show people what they can buy is like having phone service without voicemail.” However, of those interviewed, 35 percent don’t have websites. Why? When today, almost eight out of 10 adults in the U.S. are on the Internet, and one out of three adults are online globally. Common reasons are a lack of time; a low comfort level with technology; lack of access to the right resources; and a fear of overwhelming demand and possible customer dissatisfaction. While those that do have a website appreciate being able to conveniently reach more customers, they too acknowledge the challenges that having a website poses: namely, the time, technical and financial commitment needed to build and maintain one.
The Pike Place Market has a general website, but it’s neither comprehensive nor interactive. Information about vendors doesn’t seem to be current, and its usefulness to both vendors and consumers is limited. Among the 50 vendors that do have websites, 17 are informational and 33 are interactive. And the degree to which websites are interactive varies. Some allow the user to contact the store, but few allow the user to make purchases online. And only a handful are set up to enable the business to easily post updates or push out promotions. Finally, most of the interactive websites are either not updated or don’t make all the vendor’s inventory available online.
Those businesses without fully interactive websites don’t seem to see online retail as an extension of their existing business. Instead, they see it as a separate venture – one they’re not prepared or equipped to handle. One vendor described it as “like opening another store.” They already spend their time running one enterprise and can’t imagine running another one. The goal is to show these vendors how interactive websites are valuable customer tools and an important way of staying in business in the coming years.
In Seattle – one of the most technologically savvy cities in the country – it’s surprising that small metropolitan businesses appear to be as much part of the digital divide as rural businesses are. Apparently, affordable access to broadband isn’t on its own enough to encourage businesses to leverage the economic opportunities that the Internet offers. So what will it take? Based on the experiences of these businesses and the current level of Internet use, we believe that the following practical steps can be taken to help vendors of Pike Place Market feel better about being online and flourish at the same time:
- Educate vendors on an on-going basis about the specific business benefits that the Internet offers.
- Identify affordable and reliable resources to help vendors create and maintain customized websites.
- Provide IT assistance to solve Internet, website and social media problems.
- Provide customer service support to manage online orders, questions and complaints.
- Offer guidance on how to manage scale. (Most businesses in Pike Place Market are small and independently owned, so they don’t know how to scale up for the demands of online sales.)
One creative and resourceful way to meet these needs would be to develop a student–‐based program (Web development, Web design, social media, customer support and IT) to work with and support the Market’s vendors. This youth move it online program approach would be mutually beneficial. The vendors receive the affordable services and help they require to get online. And students develop the skills they need to become valuable resources for our community through practical experience while also helping to guide the Market into the 21st century. Since the reasons that the Market’s vendors gave for not doing more business online are the exact same reasons given in other areas in our state, MIO, a Washington State‐based nonprofit corporation, is actively exploring how to develop and fund such a program for small businesses in Seattle and in rural communities. We have all the needed know‐how and assets in our state to support such a program.
By building technology skills and providing supervised hands‐on experience through our youth we can increase important workforce skills for our economy throughout our state yet at the same time provide much needed support for this historic market (and other small and new businesses) so they can be part of the digital economy, not just in the future but today.
A courtesy copy of the complete Pike Place Market story is available upon request to [email protected]
Thanks to Abby Islan and Kristy Phillips for their help with this project and the telling of this story.
Angela Wu, Founder of MIO, a nonprofit corporation, shares facts and figures to inform, educate and connect the benefits of broadband-based applications and services to what people do.
Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World
A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.
April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.
At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).
This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).
When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.
The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.
Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.
President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.
The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.
An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.
Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion
Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.
April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.
Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language, said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.
Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.
At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.
Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance.
Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.
Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.
Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry
Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.
April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.
The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.
Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.
What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.
“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.
Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.
And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.
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