t’s been a while since I had any paper money in my wallet.
I can also hardly remember the last time I bought a piece of tech in a brick-and-mortar store. If you, like me, pay mainly with credit or debit cards, and buy things on Amazon AMZN, +0.17% rather than in a store, the next 10 years will be made for you.
The future of shopping can easily be summed up in two words: convenience and speed. So let’s talk about the upcoming overhaul of shopping experience.
Try before you buy — ‘couch version’
We’ve all been there — you spent hours scouring shops in your favorite mall for a particular piece of clothing, only to find it doesn’t look as good on you as you thought it would. In the future, you’ll be able to try on any clothes in the comfort of your home.
All you will need to do is stand before your PC camera (or this really cool smart mirrorby OakLabs), and select the item you’d like to try on. Software will use your physique to construct a 3D model, and overlay it seamlessly over the video feed, syncing with your every move. The 3D model will then don the clothes, and you will be able to see how they look on you.
Companies have already started exploring this concept: FITLE creates a 3D model of the online shopper by allowing them to scan themselves using their phone. A scan is then used to estimate a person’s size with greater accuracy. Bodymetrics does the same thing, albeit with higher fidelity, at a brick-and-mortar store. Its software then provides a series of recommendations (by brand, fit and size) for the shopper’s body type.
Never run out of coffee
That’s right, you’ll never run out of coffee. And not just coffee. Anything that can be put in a special (internet-of-things-powered) container will be tracked, and you’ll receive an alert when you’re close to running out of an item.
Two things can happen at that time: The system will automatically order a refill for you, or you will have an option to do that yourself. If you’re tech-savvy, you can make such container by yourself if you follow these instructions. Or — provided their project gets funded — you can get a nice, polished version by WePlenish that can order items for you. As you can see, products like these aren’t too far away, but I see them becoming mainstream only as a follow-up to the greater IoT (internet of things) adoption.
Robots, robots everywhere
Robotic assistants that can lead you to your item, carry your shopping bags, or act as a security guard will proliferate in years to come. Piaggio, the company behind Vespa scooters, has already created one such assistant, named Gita. Gita is a small, blue, orb-like robot, capable of carrying your shopping items, and navigating the environment at 22 miles per hour.
As far as security-guard robots go, you may have heard of Knightscope’s Dalek-like robot, K5. While it still has a long way to go, and at best is more of an unarmed support unit for real officers than a stand-alone security product, it is a sign of a trend that will only keep improving.
Big data, meet bigger data, meet AI
Brands and companies are already collecting terabytes of data on us every day. Each browsing session is logged, every order documented, resulting in a customer profile that helps them sell you even more items and services. By analyzing this data, brands can, with great accuracy, determine your age, gender, income and much more.
In 10 years, as IoT matures, and it becomes even easier to do more shopping faster, your profile will consist of a plethora of orders, cancellations, comments, clicks and IoT interactions. Who better to make sense of all that noise than AI? It will take in all of these entries and connect the dots, creating a perfect picture of you. Using these results, websites and robotic assistants will be able to “read your mind,” and offer you relevant products and services before you even ask. To me that sounds both scary and exciting.
I want it, and I want it now. Well, now you can have it with the Amazon Prime subscription on a select list of items. Other giants are also experimenting with same-day delivery service — Google GOOG, -1.43% introduced Google Express, and Walmart WMT, -0.07% has Walmart Grocery.
It will take some time, however, before this type of service becomes a worldwide norm. Obstacles like logistics, delivery vehicles and expenses need to be overcome in the most optimal way, but once that happens, delivery robots, drones and personal shoppers scurrying about to get you your items will be a common sight.
Today, shipping expenses are still too great to allow for greater adoption — many things (both hardware- and software-related) need to happen before the practice becomes sustainable for smaller companies.
Checking out is a bummer. Unless you’re shopping at Amazon Go. The experimental store features no lines and no checkouts — just you, your smartphone and your shopping bag. “Just walk out” shopping is in its early stages, but it’s bound to take off, provided Amazon’s experiment proves to be a success (and it sure seems like it).
The concept is simple: You walk in, get the stuff you need, and the AI tracks the items and charges you for what you took after you exit the store. In brick-and-mortar retail world, this is a game changer — this practice will definitely spread, once other brands figure out how to do it easier and cheaper than Amazon.