According to most of the science fiction that gained mass appeal in the 1950's to 1960's, we are now comfortably in "the future." Not the future as in anytime after 1967. Rather, we're in the future where we were supposed to have flying cars, jetpacks, and subservient robots. Unfortunately, many of those things have not come to be. Although, we can now order a pizza online without ever having to talk to another human being, so I suppose one can consider that progress. But seriously speaking, the way something as simple as ordering pizza has changed the way we go about our business is a testament to the fact that we are indeed living in somewhat futuristic times.
The way we shop has changed more dramatically than anything else over the past couple of decades. Technology has changed rapidly and many people wonder what that means for the future of retail. From checkout clerks being replaced by self-service lanes to information desks being replaced by an interactive building directory, the way we shop and work is changing. Whether you're concerned about what that means for your job or for what your shopping experience is going to be like, here are some of the ways technology could shape our lives.
We stop going to stores
While this is unlikely (especially when it comes to things like buying clothes, jewelry, etc) ,the internet has certainly had an affect on sales in brick and mortar stores. Sales continually dip at many retailers, though it hasn't reached catastrophic proportions. The best businesses mix both and cater to people's desire for convenience (online) and a great customer service experience (the physical store). Some of your favorite stores could very well close their doors, but the current way we shop probably won't change drastically in the new future.
But what about robots?
While the desire to see our sci fi fantasies come true is strong, it probably won't happen. It almost certainly won't happen in our lifetimes. While robotics as a field is constantly advancing, it is more likely you'll see robots becoming a larger part of manufacturing before you see them engaging you in every day life. Sorry to ruin the fun, but artificial intelligence isn't available widely or cheaply enough to have robots working in stores. Till then, we'll have to watch TV in order to see that reality.
Continued automation is what our future most likely holds. We're already seeing it with more self-checkout lanes appearing in stores ranging from supermarkets to hardware stores. While it hasn't really broken into the clothing retail market yet (probably due to concerns of theft) there's no reason to believe it won't eventually. The state of the art buildings, whether it's office buildings or malls, are installing an interactive building directory to assist in directing visitors rather than having a human being guide them.
The future of shopping is probably a combination of traditional sales with the gradual introduction of self-service kiosks. Realistically, what's holding back further automation is demographics. As the more technological savvy people age into adulthood, they'll be more comfortable using self-service interfaces. You'll probably see more of them within the next ten years or so. Sales people might suddenly become a luxury service rather than the norm.
About Today's Contributor:
Tony Morelli is a business blogger with an interest in how technology shapes our habits.