Slander through social media and the anonymity it provides is a problem. It hurts people, and sometimes even takes lives. If the victims were not individually identifiable, then it would not be such a cruel experience. Some users of social media clearly publicize their identities, while others cause trouble while remaining anonymous. In addition, the media that tolerate this behavior are also seen as part of the problem. In the real world of old, many people would hesitate to say such things because they would take the other person's feelings into consideration. However, those who have discovered a digital space where they can speak anonymously highly value it as a place where they can express themselves without worrying about other's feelings. Also, these people experience a heightened sense of self-affirmation from the pooling of empathy with their statements. Some people suffer mental anguish because they have not satisfied their need for approval, or because in the real world they become so nervous that they close themselves off from others. In social media, they may find a more comfortable place and wish to further express themselves, and for this the value of social media has been commended. However, everything should be done in moderation. The special benefits disappear if the person becomes too comfortable in the space and does as he or she pleases. In essence, balance is important. Releasing one's pent-up resentment from the real world in a digital space will not solve real-world problems. While venting can sooth one's emotions to some extent, it can also get in the way of facing reality. At some point, the person may even lose all desire for contact in the real world.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic suddenly unleashed upon us, remote work has entered our daily lives. Since we are working at home and voluntarily avoiding going out, e-commerce has been doing a brisk business across the board. You can get anything with the click of a button. You don't need to go to the store to have somebody tell you about a product because you can just read the reviews on the site to figure out the quality. In this case, it's no wonder that there is very little remaining need to visit a brick-and-mortar store. One interesting thing about clothing, shoes, and the like is that even though people prefer to actually try these items on before buying them, these products are regularly involved in e-commerce transactions. Although you might think that you actually have to interact with an item in the real world to gauge the quality of materials, the fit, the comfort, and so on, apparently that is not the case. This was the state of consumer awareness and behavior when a shoe store in China faced a crisis. Near Linshen is a venerable shoe store founded 167 years ago. In the past, Mao Zedong was apparently among their customers. With the coronavirus pandemic, though, just like everyone else, the store has been prohibited from doing business due to quarantine measures put in place by the Beijing authorities. The knowledge of the retail business and customer service that had been cultivated over its long history was, one day, abruptly locked away. Most enterprises would have been at a loss, but this shop was strong. The business decided to make its debut in live commerce, a technique for connecting with customers online with which the store had no prior experience whatsoever.

Image : AP/Aflo

What is live commerce? It is a service that combines live streaming with e-commerce. The streamer introduces products via a live feed and viewers can purchase them directly. At first glance this may sound similar to the Home Shopping Network, but it is different from a shopping program that delivers information to a large television audience. It also differs from individual net streaming by YouTubers and the like. Live commerce is a form of two-way communication between the streamer and the audience that is distinguished by the intimacy which live streaming allows. The distance with viewers is close, and the relationship feels more like one between the viewer and a friend making recommendations, rather than with the shop. Additionally, because it is a live stream, the video is unedited, which excites users because the experience feels real and authentic. Furthermore, by posing questions and requests on-the-spot, users can immediately clear up their doubts and uncertainties. This arrangement satisfies users' needs and leads to increased buyer eagerness. But even though this is two-way communication, this arrangement seems like it would be stiff and inaccessible. So rather than just talking about the specifications or the price of the product itself, the streamer takes care to clearly communicate what benefits the product holds for the viewers, which gradually fosters empathy among the audience. Placing an emphasis on the experience rather than the objects, or making the content first rather than the product, is an approach that differs markedly from conventional TV shopping or net shopping. The viewer doesn't feel pressured to make a purchase or rushed. Gradually, the viewer becomes a fan of the presenter, and then later a core fan, thereby deepening engagement. In the future, live commerce is expected to play a role in fostering loyalty between companies/brands and users by utilizing the interactive nature of the medium.

There are also many technical gimmicks. Because the streams are accessed on smartphones, the camerawork employs dedicated vertical videography, suitable lighting and sound, and so on, making for a highly professional setup, technically speaking. Furthermore, features are added to make the experience feel more reciprocal. For example, there could be comments or questionnaires, or a heart button to express one's approval during the show, which then appears on the live screen. By visualizing empathy in this form, viewers get a greater sense of unity in that they are participating in the show. Some shows add features such as a game where viewers take screenshots according to icons that appear on the screen, or the streamer will hold a smartphone and read out comments sent in by users. Many programs end with the streamer purchasing an item after making an empathy-laced statement, such as “I saw so-and-so wearing this item! I want it, too!” It seems that many people with an influencer-like presence will arise from this industry. Then, we can expect second or third waves of product information and reviews flowing between users via social media and elsewhere. This is appealing to companies for the high cost-effectiveness of the marketing and promotions.

Chinese companies that have had successes such as these have been steadily getting into live commerce and building up their experience. An apparel company in Hangzhou is reportedly doing well, having boosted year-on-year sales by 10%, despite the current situation. The environment for live commerce in China is also superb, with the number of users swelling to over 200 million people by 2018. For example, it would be possible to not just create sales through live commerce, but also, for instance, to encourage inbound tourism by introducing facilities. It would be placing an emphasis on the facility rather than the product, or on the land rather than the facility. It should be possible to construct a process that goes from initial contact with the product to inbound travel. This is how live commerce is spreading and picking up speed on the Chinese mainland as it expands to yet more business sectors. Unquestionably, live commerce will occupy an important position in promotions for inbound travel to China. Unlike systematic e-commerce that has been devoid of personal involvement and relations, live commerce facilitates transactions through interpersonal communication, while still being online. You could say that a paradoxical phenomenon is arising in that the selling power of people is gaining influence in a digital setting. Connect digitally, sell through the power of people. These new and old things are making for an odd couple that produces an unusual situation in that it is creating a novel sales experience.

However, although the experience is online, it can seem to be a realistic reproduction of what it is like to go on an exciting shopping trip to a store. This setting may remind you of how loud and noisy it can be to go shopping in the real world. When you look at an item, a clerk soon approaches and starts talking to you. You just want to check out the item yourself, but if the clerk really wants to make a sale, they will start recommending it to you. And then they may start talking and talking about things you don't want to hear... Fed up with all of this, you might then leave the salesfloor. Then you might look for the item again at an e-commerce site and buy it. It seems like the online experience is actually much easier. You realize that it's not annoying like in the real world and you can ask all the questions that you want to ask. Then, your curiosity fully satisfied, the happy user you are produces the shoes and you leave the store...which you do by turning off your PC or smartphone screen. There are other things in the real world that can be a pain, but there seem to be many people in the coronavirus pandemic who have experienced cases where they find it acceptable in the digital world. Take schools, for example. Some students who were frequently truant have become passionate learners once classes went online. The rules of etiquette seem somewhat different between the real and digital worlds. That locational difference might affect who can and cannot thrive.

There is a service that makes users overtly want to feel a connection with people through not only e-commerce, but also online. This is the “online gym.” As you know, novel coronavirus clusters have appeared at fitness and sports gyms in many places, forcing those businesses to close. Even now, as rates of infection abate, many gym customers have permanently or temporarily canceled their memberships due to the elevated risk of infection through droplets in the air. Some who have stopped going to the gym and going out altogether have found ways to keep exercising while living under the restrictions of the pandemic, such as by jogging around their home, but with summer's arrival in the northern hemisphere, exercising with a mask on is becoming strenuous. An increasing number of people are slowly gaining weight due to “corona weight gain”: a lack of exercise and excessive eating while at home. Social media users have meanwhile been conspicuous in posting about their miserable state. To help these people, there is a gym that quickly switched from face-to-face lessons to an online format and which has continued providing instruction even after states of emergency have been lifted. This is Fitness Playground, a gym in Australia.

Justin Ashley, who runs the business, managed to start up a system offering subscriptions to online workouts only one week after lockdowns came into effect. He expects that the number of people who go to a gym will continue to decline and that many customers will opt for alternatives such as online lessons. Ashley was quick to switch to an online format because he believed that people would be very receptive to an online gym and that they would continue to use it even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. However, his greatest misgiving was whether his employees could continue working. Fitness Playground employs many personal trainers, including champions in their sports. Members have been very satisfied with the trainers' instruction. The strong relationships Fitness Playground regularly maintains with its customers convinced Ashley about the importance of connections between people both in the real world and online. He says that workouts might revert back to the 1980s trend of exercising at home rather than visiting the gym. That thought certainly feeds the notion that even when it comes to keeping fit, history does indeed repeat itself.

The renowned trainers had already been using social media and had their own YouTube channels to teach their private students even more sophisticated methods. Most likely, students who lack confidence about their physique will always be leery of or hesitant to participate in group fitness or personal training with a distinguished trainer. In their pessimism, they may think that they would hold back the other students in the lesson or that people would laugh at them for being a beginner asking such a professional for instruction. However, these same people may feel just fine in online lessons. When they're moving about in a fitness class, there's no need to worry about the person next to them. Plus, the personal trainers are also online, and that distance relaxes nerves. One lesson in particular that is gaining popularity is “Fitness Star.” In Japan, instructors tend to play more of a behind-the-scenes role at businesses like fitness gyms. Although there are some trainers who have earned some name recognition, in other countries, they can earn celebrity status. These stars have well-proportioned bodies which they are more than happy to flaunt, while students look on in envy. “That's the kind of body I want to have!” “I don't want to just train like them, I want to live like them!” More than a few people have become instant fans of these trainers. Joe Wicks is an English fitness coach and a presenter on the TV program “The Body Coach.” Dubbed the originator of online fitness, he was already providing online fitness lessons back in 2014. Wicks' fitness method is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short. He started out by posting 15-second program videos on social media, until eventually becoming one of the most followed fitness accounts on Instagram and YouTube. Wicks' program is distinguished by combining exercise with diet. His first published cookbook, “ Lean in 15,” has sold over 900,000 copies. With the coronavirus pandemic, he switched his schedule from teaching exercise to children at schools to providing free fitness lessons via social media streams to help relieve the stress of children stuck at home. Even if it's online rather than in the real world, the opportunity to receive this instruction and interact with a fitness star must be a great experience. By the way, these live streams have had a wide-ranging influence, having been viewed by over 1 million students across the globe.

Image : gettyimages

While online lessons are becoming more commonplace, a growing number of people want to set aside an exercise space for themselves at home. In response, there are services that can remodel the smallest of spaces into reasonably stylish gym studios in the home. But if you're going to put training equipment in there, you'll need a suitable amount of space. The Mirror is a full-body mirror you lean up against the wall. It's sold by Mirror, an American company, which markets the product as a piece of fitness equipment like nothing before it. The Mirror blends in perfectly like a natural piece of your interior decor. When you want to train, you stand in front of it and get moving. An optional service provides on-demand lessons that connect you live with an instructor. When exercising, the mirror checks your form and other indicators while displaying the image of an instructor who guides you. It feels like you're actually in an exercise studio. A camera built into the screen sends a feed to your instructor so you can receive a private lesson. This is a case where technology and design fit each other like a glove. There could be many people who, upon encountering this technological advance, will jump on the chance to turn their home into a gym. In this day and age, rather than going to the gym to seek out instruction, it seems people will be inviting instructors to visit their homes virtually.

Be that as it may, keeping up a training program all by oneself may seem incredibly challenging. A recent popular trend is exercising with a group of people by cycling in the dark. The feelings from exercising in a group are what motivate the people who join such programs. An environment providing an online connection with both trainers and other students can feel much like taking a group lesson. Such an environment can offer great enjoyment and the satisfaction derived from the fun and achievement. Online gyms also produce such benefits, so they may be able to attract new customers as well.

There is also a case from Cannes Lions of an initiative to significantly boost results by putting people in the mix, rather than relying completely on digital technology. This is The Swedish Number tourism campaign run by the Swedish government's tourism bureau. At the time, it was 250 years ago when Sweden became the first country in the world to abolish censorship and establish the freedom of speech. In commemoration, the Swedish government's tourism bureau ran a national PR campaign to promote how freely Swedes talk about their country. First, they created the country's very own phone number, called “The Swedish Number,” and widely promoted the hotline as a way to ask for sightseeing information. Fielding the phone calls from around the world were Swedish citizens acting as ambassadors for the country and speaking in their own words about Sweden's good points.

The phone number, the first-ever direct line to a country, connected callers randomly with a “Swedish ambassador” who had signed up to answer calls. As the people answering the phones were “ambassadors of Sweden,” callers could ask them any question about Sweden, such as on the weather, climate, food, lifestyles, sports, event information, and so on. Any Swede who lives in the country could become a Swedish ambassador. Those who wished to do so could sign up with their phone number at a dedicated website. There was no prescreening process, and of course the site also provided assistance, such as model answers. Anybody could represent their country. Nothing could feel better. Reportedly, over 20,000 citizens signed up as ambassadors. This arrangement succeeding in uniquely and fully conveying Sweden's appeal both domestically and abroad by providing people who speak freely about the real Sweden, rather than standard tourism information. The more than 20,000 Swedish investors hailed from a diverse range of occupations, from pharmacists to waiters, farmers, truck drivers, and more. Naturally, they have a variety of perspectives and values, so they have all sorts of sightseeing spots, food, and other recommendations to share. Meanwhile, the questions asked were all over the place, from the northern lights to meatballs to politics. This may seem like a messy approach for a tourism guide, but users enjoyed it very much and recommend it to others. If you have a question about Sweden, the best way to answer it is to ask someone who lives there. It was a slightly surprising arrangement because the locals were speaking in their own voice about Sweden, warts and all. In this modern day of technological advancement, callers were actually quite receptive to the spontaneity of not knowing to whom they would be connected and the friendly interpersonal exchanges. In this era when customer service is apt to be replaced by AI, the “value of the real” was tangible from this campaign.

THE SWEDISH NUMBER

Here we have spoken of the entertainment genre, but no matter how fast a pace digital technology sets, people will always want real interactions with other people. Of course, if what we seek is efficiency, then we may prefer to have AI answer our questions about tourism or to keep people completely out of the equation when selling shoes on e-commerce sites. However, that does not seem to be enough. On the other hand, while experiencing new things like the ones presented here, we also need to find the proper balance through trial and error. Through this process, this sense of balance within people will slowly improve and become a fixed part of our lives.