I am not a shopaholic – not even a fleeting one. But when eBay asked everyone to rack their brains and imagine how shopping would be done in 2030, it seemed quite an interesting thought experiment. We live in a time when consumerism has become a mainstay, with our minds being driven by the media-infused insecurity about our own well being. That’s a bit wordy way of saying that advertisements make us shop more. But hey! this article is not about advertisements. It is what happens after that – procuring our object(s) of interest – shopping.
Technology has been moving ahead in leaps and bounds. And so has our laziness index. There seems to be a direct correlation here. The easier the things become, the lazier we become. Shopping was not left behind as well. In a world where everything is available on the click of a button, the consumer does not go to the store; the store comes to the consumer. Online shopping has clearly emerged as the new force here. Basically, the process of shopping can be thought of as a combination of two sub-processes: evaluating the product (visuals or product demos) and procuring the product (getting the product in your hands + payment). Let us imagine how these will happen in about two decades from now.
Experiencing the product
This relates to evaluating the product using a few or all of our five senses, depending on the product. For instance, you sample a grape from the fruit store to test its quality (then you go a few more rounds and come back and sample again.. and again…). But for a perfume or a room freshener, your olfactory sense comes into play. Since we can safely assume that tomorrow’s consumer would be even more glued to their comfy couches, we will let technology bring the store to them, to evaluate the product.
Realistic 3D imagery could be provided by holograph technology. Nothing radical there, since it is not a very new concept. What about smell? Apparently, work is in progress in that direction too. Then we have taste and touch. Taste and smell are closely related senses, and it makes sense to imagine that some technology to transfer taste will be developed in parallel or as corollary of the scent-transfer technology (though I would think twice, nay, thrice before taking my tongue to the screen). Finally the touch (we’ll club the audio with visual). We do have virtual reality systems which can effectively put the user in a virtual world with life-like experiences. We already have a collective term for these – Immersive technologies. Having a name is a good sign – it indicates that something right is going on in that direction.
Advances in technology will improve the virtual reality environment, and probably, in future, you will go to the website of your favourite store and access their virtual store, which will project (through special projectors installed on your system) and convert your room into a virtual replica of the store itself. Now you can walk around, see, smell and taste whatever you want to buy at that store. Gives the phrase “bring the store to you” a whole new perspective. That would be cool. Remember how Tony Stark plays around with those virtual thingy in his Malibu mansion? That cool.
Procuring the product
Once you select and evaluate the product, you proceed to pay for it, and acquire it. It would be far fetched to imagine that traditional methods of payment – fishing out bills from your wallet and carrying back your items in a carry bag – would go away completely. However, we can expect some novel ways in which these can happen. We already have the plastic money. So how else can we improve? For one, you still have to go to the store or atleast till your door to get the thing (Expecting the delivery man to come and place it in your lap while you are cosy on the couch is impractical. And rude.). Let’s try to improve on that:
There is this latest ‘in-thing’ which makes everyone a creator – 3D printing. Prototypes and working models are already out. Useful products have already been printed using these. It seems quite reasonable to believe that in future, the raw material cost and the printer cost will come down, and that the technology will get better. So how can we put it into good use in future? Well, here’s a scenario. You aimlessly stroll through your neighbourhood virtual hypermarket (which could be on the other side of the globe), and you stumble upon the product you were looking for. You proceed to buy it. But remember, the actual store could be anywhere, and shipping times (and cost) would vary. So you opt for the talk-of-the-town, knight-in-shining-white-armour technology. You download a 3D blueprint of the product, and use your 3D printer to print it for you. Voila! You have your product in your hands. Plus side – no shipping cost, no extra time. Down side – you have to pay for the print raw material.
This will raise one interesting concern. Now that you have the blueprint, could you not make multiple 3D prints of the product? There can be two solutions for that. One is to have a self-destructive blueprint program which will decimate itself after it is used once. No hassles there. If you want the product once more, pay and get the one-time use blueprint once more. But then, maybe the blueprint itself could be copied? Then we could try for the second option. A blueprint which will print the product as well as handle the transaction. Your own account details would be saved in the 3D printer or its associated program. The blueprint will contain the payment details of the manufacturer or seller. Each time you print out the product, the amount is transacted from your account to the seller’s account. That demands for a 3D printer that is always online, and refuses to print unless you have enough balance in your account.
All said and done, technologies work towards making the experience as smooth and seamless as possible. The direction in which the advances are going suggest that indeed, tomorrow’s stores will visit you. Up goes the laziness index again.
This creative thinking exercise was done as part of eBay’s future of shopping programme. There is an eBay extension for Google Chrome which automatically gives you the best prices on eBay for any products you may be looking for. Check it out here: eBay Check.
[Image courtesy: Original image of the store courtesy of Jusben]