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The Competitive Intelligentsia

“The Ozempic Effect”
October 13, 2023

“It's important to stay current and up to date… not read yesterday's newspaper. That's why we think you need data for what's going on right now, not a week ago. By that point, it's too old.” Josh Wilson, CEO of Particl

Way back in the early aughts, as a junior software engineer in my first direct-to-consumer startup, part of my job was building apps that checked in on our products across the internet. 

The “compliance team” was really just a grizzled older woman named Dee, who spent the bulk of her career as a catalog affiliate, and me, a kid who knew how to write PHP. She knew all of the tricks, because she made a metric eff-ton of money by exploiting brands just like ours.

Our “watchdog” apps — in our parlance — ensured our partners were adhering to compliance.

It turned out that many of those apps that checked for MAP pricing, discounting, and Amazon competition were also easily adapted to aggregate our competitor’s offerings into a “data lake” (lol it was actually just a ginormous single-table MySQL database). From it, we could extrapolate how the industry was taking shape:

  • Average reviews
  • Cadence of product launches
  • Pricing updates
  • Sitewide sales and advertised discounts

We would trade messages on AIM about our competitors and their motives. I fancied us the “competitive intelligentsia” within the business, even if my main job was to support the dot-com site and our growing team of developers and QA.

Sometimes, if it was urgent, she’d call me up — usually right at the end of the work day. 

“Something’s not right, Philly,” she’d say with the raspy tone that only unfiltered Pall Malls can give you. I’d have been mad that she called me Philly, if she wasn’t always right. “I’m seeing everyone else launching echinacea, what do they know?” or some other type of thing that I had no answers for, but I was all-too-keen to entertain.

Working with Dee gave me an insight into how brands sell and merchandise, and how competitors copycat each other. She had the “X” factor that is so often missing in the eCom circles: she had intuition.

The tools I built helped her to confirm what she already knew in her gut.

Dee’s intuition came from years of experience, something that I came to trust, and I’d often stay late pulling reports for Dee. We were a great team. I wrote a bunch of “watchdogs” that kept our business competitive, until it finally was acquired in 2012, and I went on to help build the eCom practice at Something Digital, where I used that intuition for the world’s most recognizable brands.

So, when I sat down with Josh Wilson from Particl on the podcast a few weeks back, it made me think of Dee. Particl is part of a new type of industry-centric data products that do the hard work that our “watchdog” apps did, but they can do it on a larger scale. Thanks to platforms like Shopify, and the prevalence of APIs nowadays, getting real-time(ish) data like Dee and I used to do is quite simple. The “scraping” of sites isn’t as laborious, it seems, and more of these types of products are springing up that make gaining this intuition about our industry, and the competitive motions within it, so much easier to gain.

Particl is surely no replacement for having a Dee on your team. But it might help you to become part of the “competitive intelligentsia” in your business.

Listen to my conversation with Josh over on the most recent episode of the Future Commerce podcast, on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

And don’t. Ever. Call. Me. Philly.

— Phillip

P.S. This is not a sponsored post by Particl. But they *did* sponsor the podcast a while back, FYI. So if you’re interested in checking it out, it helps us out to use this link: 

And when you talk to them, ask them why they have a quote from Nik on the Future Commerce landing page, lol.

Taylor Swifty Picture Show. In the 1970s, a subculture formed around another theatrical musical release: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The modern example of our emergent participatory culture is the newest film in your local theater. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour has already developed its own culture, lingo, chants, and lore, on opening weekend. Presales records were smashed well before opening day, surpassing 9-figures before this week’s review. It’s like liturgy for the modern millennial, Swift-style.

Credit: Meta

You Can’t Spell “Missionary” Without “AI”. Meta's new AI dating coach, “Carter”, is being labeled as conservative and seemingly kink-shames users, raising questions about AI's moral compass.

The Future is Multiplayer. A new web browser in development makes browsing a multiplayer affair. Braid, based on Chromium (the same engine that powers Chrome and Safari), shows collaborators’ mouse cursors in a familiar, Figma-like, environment. 

Our Take: We predicted this. In our VISIONS: Volume IV zine, The Multiplayer Brand, we theorized that we’re moving towards a participatory economy. The concept, popularized by media theorist Henry Jenkins, proposes that digital experiences lower the barrier to entry for participation. 

More reading: Buy a copy of our newest print piece, The Multiplayer Brand, to go deeper into the effects of participation, and how brands can prepare. 

Even more: The Browser ain’t dead, yet. We theorize a coming wave of purpose-built browsers and plugins that will further fragment the consumer experience in this Insiders piece from 2022

“The Ozempic Effect” is Bunk. We Think. While Walmart is forecasting a “lower basket size” among its GLP-1 consumers (Wegovy, Ozempic, et al), others are calling B.S. Investigative retail reporter Hitha Herzog suggests that supply chain and pricing are more to blame than the weight-loss “wonderdrug.” If the “Ozempic Effect” is real, it might be more transient than inflation (sorry, Jpowell) — most patients stay on the drug for no more than a year.

Language Games. OpenAI's GPT-4 has shown vulnerabilities in handling languages not commonly in its training data, which is opening it up to a new area of vulnerability and coercability. Decrypt's article on a new way to hack the model raises concerns about researcher’s ability to effectively “red team” LLMs, and whether they’ll ever truly be considered “safe.”

Support for Israel. A Notion base is making the rounds, compiling a list of capital allocators and businesses that are showing open supporting of Israel amid their war with Hamas, reflecting the political and social dynamics of the tech ecosystem.

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