For years, retailers have been heavily investing in their e-commerce platforms to help them increase margins, improve services and widen their offering. Today, the average pushed-for-time family wouldn't hesitate to buy their groceries online and we all use Amazon to buy - well, everything.
However, it's only much more recently that traditional service based industries, who have previously relied on their physical premises, have recognised the importance and benefits of having a strong digital presence.
This is a trend that is changing the way that we access legal advice, medical services and potentially even therapy. Here we look at some of the businesses who are shaking up these once staid industries.
Until very recently law firms had to be owned by the lawyers who worked for them. This often created businesses that were slow to adapt new technologies and had little input from professionals with broader cross-sector experience. This all changed with the Legal Services Act in 2007 that allowed non-lawyers to invest in and own law firms. A major knock on effect of this change is that traditional law firms are taking learnings from more tech savvy industries and applying them to their own.
One area this trend is really affecting the market is with legal advice for small businesses. A number of start-up firms, like Google backed Rocket Lawyer, are providing small businesses with online tools that allow them to create bespoke legal documents themselves, without the aid and expense of a qualified lawyer. Creating these document costs a fraction of the price that getting traditional legal advice would and is often much much quicker. This speed and price benefit is particularly beneficial for small start-ups that need to hit the ground running.
A similar trend is also occurring with personal legal advice, where traditional firms like US based Bohn and Fletcher have started to provide live chat functions for their clients, enabling them to gain advice immediately. Although this approach might not be the best fit for more complex legal issues, it could be a huge time saver where the matter is more straight forward.
Even more interesting is how technological improvements are affecting the medical industry. Like in law, users traditionally access medical advice in person, and intuitively it's difficult to imagine how this advice could be moved online. A number of young start-ups, however, are starting to change that view, and with really exciting results.
For instance, an exciting UK start-up called Babylon has produced a new App, which they pitch as "like having a GP in your pocket". The App allows you to send a text query or photo to be screened by a qualified doctor or nurse; if your query requires a little more explaining, you can opt to book an instant phone or video consultation.
One of the precursors to Babylon was of course the NHS's very own immediate health care service - NHS 111. Set up in 1998 as NHS Direct, the service allows the general public to receive basic medical advice from trained non-doctors/nurses over the phone. This service has saved the NHS millions in wasted doctors hours. What differentiates Apps like Babylon however is the provision of direct access to the very doctors themselves, as well immediate access to prescriptions. If needed, the doctors on Babylon can write a prescription which then appears on the App and can be picked up immediately at your local pharmacy.
Of course, these services are particularly beneficial for "Generation Y", a time pushed and technologically savvy breed who are confused when the services they require aren't online. Big questions remain however as to how this switch will effect, the high proportion of the UK population still without access to the world wide web (surprisingly, 17% of homes in the UK are still without internet access). The fact that these services will be inaccessible to large swathes of the British public means that policy makers are loathe to over-endorse online only solutions. But this reticence could soon be a worry of the past, with Increasing broadband coverage as well as a focus on tech classes for the elderly getting more and more people online, politicians won't have that excuse for long.
As our population becomes more tech savvy, we should expect to see more and more traditional service providers pulling down their shutters and turning on their laptops.
(I'll leave you with Lisa Kudrow's (Phoebe from Friends) hilarious take on what happens when these web based services go, a little too far.)