In this final post in a four-part series of blogs, Richard Haynes, Director at The Community Gateway and founder of Gadget Hub, shares the lessons he’s learned on his journey of retailing telecare.

Whatever I have to say on the subject of retailing could be argued and debated about, and not everyone will agree with me. However, three main points that I have made recently in my presentations (including at AKTIVE) are summarised below and are, I feel, indisputable.

Make it fun and inclusive

If we are trying to create interest and awareness in something new and in effect create new demand for telecare and LETs (Life Enhancing Technology), we cannot keep doing the same thing – which is to focus on the supply side and management of existing demand. Still, this is to a degree understandable because increasing demand in health and social care terms is counterintuitive to almost everything else that we do. So, if we are trying to stimulate and create new demand we have to make telecare and LETs not only known about and increase the overall awareness but we also need to increase its desirability. To do this we need to appeal to much broader sensibilities.

The most modern meaning of Assistive Technology is probably the King’s Fund definition. When it was first co-produced and agreed at the King’s Fund, facilitated by FAST, it was highly progressive in that it was the first definition to offer the key advantage of characterising ‘independence’ as an outcome, in contrast to other definitions at that time that set functionality and safety as outcomes. I would argue though that it now desperately needs updating.

How many of us buy mobile phones or any products for that matter because they make us safe, functional and independent? No offence to health and safety people, but that is pretty boring! We generally have a range of motives and I find the acronym ‘H-E-L-P-S-M-E to have fun!’ helpful! See this separate blog for the meaning of ‘HELPSME to have fun!’, but my point is that assistive technology takes many forms, and we all use technology and products to enable us to have more leisure time, to save money, and generally to have fun.

The influences and reasons why we consume and purchase products are usually very personal to us. We need to reframe our understanding of AT and telecare and telehealth on the basis of asset-based models of citizenship and not traditional ‘gift’ based systems (see Centre for Welfare Reform article). In other words, telecare and LETs in general need to enable people to be fully engaged citizens in society, not separate or maintained in their home or a separate community setting, and to be able to access a full range of employment, education and leisure activity.

I know personally a great many OTs who agree on this point: where they spend their lives trying to persuade people to use aids to daily living, only to find quite often it gathering dust in the garage or shed. My learning through the experience showed me that the product was one small part of the experience. Inclusive design goes beyond products and applies equally to service design and the physical experience of the product and service. One brief example of this is when someone was looking at an enuresis sensor on my kiosk against the backdrop of Clinton Cards and Ann Summers. They commented, ‘what is the big deal, why is it embarrassing, it’s only like products you might see in Mothercare’. I guess if you hide products behind signing-in books, closed doors, by appointment only, and rarely see them, it will reinforce a stigma. Seeing products in mainstream and ‘normal’ retail environment does more for mainstreaming and normalising a product than any amount of inclusive product design.

Choose the right environment and the right people

Although I have a retail career including training, qualifications and experience to draw on, I really wasn’t the right person to work in a mall in a retail setting. Not only has it been a long time since I worked in that environment, it wasn’t really where my particular strengths lay. I am far too chatty for a start! My interests and assets were in bringing new retail formats to a retail environment and in prototyping, testing and refining them. Luckily, I had worked in retail to develop new ways of presenting and merchandising camcorders, and with Sky TV when it first hit the high street. I also got involved in training and workforce development alongside new product/category introductions and have worked closely with store operations within other head office functions. Still, other people were far better suited to retailing than I was.

On the environment let’s first look at the format: a kiosk. For the products’ price point the main aim should be about gathering referrals not selling. This is the same approach a friend who has lots of experience in retailing new formats told me about: Telstra in Australia found that very few people spend money at a kiosk format, and it was almost a failure until they refocused on generating referrals – a lot like the Sky kiosks you see in malls now. However, the kiosk was the offer I had and I was grateful! Here, what amazed me was the number of people who engaged very positively with this format and were happy to discuss quite personal details, so the rapport was excellent.

I mentioned to some people that what I was doing was an experiment and asked what they thought. Many people said that one important factor to them was the location, being somewhere people would have to almost ‘trip’ over (not literally of course but we had a fall detector for that!). It needed to be somewhere that was central, easily accessible and desirable to be. These were people who in some cases were not receiving care, but who in my view would have almost certainly been eligible and yet they preferred to manage and make do and would self-fund.

Make it as human as possible

There is a dual crisis at present that I believe presents an outstanding opportunity to collaborate and deliver assisted living lifestyles at scale. Some malls now look almost like a ghost town, with retail vacancies standing at between 12% and 18%, and must compete with more efficient cheaper competitive solutions online. At the same time, telecare or LETs are still yet to make an impression. At the same time, the retail formats that appear to work in malls and town centres are those where skill and knowledge is of more importance, such as an Apple shop. It seems to me a shop that has a more inclusive and mainstream appeal, that appeals to greater sensibilities than just very specific labels of disability that people are sometimes given, and instead solves problems like increasing safety for people who are walking the dog, are vulnerable as students going backpacking around the world, just want to be safer on a night out, or know that their child has got home safely from school. Alternatively, there is the film and home cinema buffs who want to automate parts of their home lighting, heating and home cinema equipment, or people who are generally just a bit forgetful or have a terrible sense of direction.

By having an accessible physical offer (which doesn’t necessarily mean a physical shop) we can start to have conversations with people, that are personalised and individual and we can tailor the technology and the messages to each person and enable everyone be fully engaged active members of society.

I will end by highlighting the story of the launch of the Walkman and encourage you to read this related blog… as the world took a big step towards the iPod generation when Sony introduced the Walkman in 1979… We have a lot to be grateful for because the iPod has made some sensory products more desirable now also. My auntie Linda teaches hearing impaired children in Vancouver. After the iPod came out, the headphones made wearing some devices more desirable. The forerunner to the iPod, the Walkman when it was first introduced was not really significantly advanced, and portable tape recorders in one form or another had existed for decades. What it was though was a giant leap for marketing, and creating demand for something new (such as the challenge for assisted living technology). The Walkman was not promoted to professional journalists, or media, like most portable tape recorders were at the time; it was promoted to ordinary consumers. Most people said it would be an abject failure. I believe Sony’s launch in contrast to the failure of the O2 Health and Home, explains why the Walkman succeeded where O2 didn’t. In summary, consumers and key public figures that influenced the public (whoever Lady Gaga’s equivalent was of the day, etc.) were invited to the launch.

The Walkman wasn’t launched in a stuffy conference room to loads of suits. The launch was held outside in a park. People were given a Walkman and headphones to wear (and try) and listened to the Chairman behind the vision speaking to them directly with background music, whilst watching roller skaters – being enabled to listen to music, whilst enjoying a leisure activity. Yes, Sony just did it and it sold!

What next?

I think whatever comes next is up to us all… No doubt, it will take some effort to mainstream telecare (or whatever we want to call it in the future) but from my experience I know that it is possible and the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading!

Richard @richardchaynes @tcg_cic