Monday, 11 December 2017

Death of all Salesmen

I'm old enough to remember the time before the first VCRs came and just how expensive tapes were when they appeared. Any number of stores popped up renting tapes, many of them (here in the UK at least) small independent. A few years later Blockbuster reached our shores and the independents vanished as the all conquering juggernaut came to utterly dominate the market. Blockbuster seemed to have an unassailable market position, until new technology made it's market disappear. The same fate has befallen all too many other well known brands in recent years, is society fated to go 'shopless' as well as cashless in the future. I discussed how money might work in a futuristic interstellar society, so now I'm going muse on whether the experience of spending that future money is really going to be so utterly different.

So first off lets exclude bars, clubs and restaurants. The need for shard social settings isn't likely to go away unless you rewrite human psychology. Let's focus on retail, the pure exchange of goods and services for money. Services are probably the thing most immune to all pervasive power of online shopping. Even if you imagines some of those services being automated, assuming anyone would want to visit say a robot barber, they are still going to require a bricks and mortar location for their business. One ironic consequence of the advance of digital commerce is that many of those little specialist retailers driven out of business by cavernous superstores and supermarket chains determined to put a store on every corner. The ASDA/Walmart might disappear but the local baker, butcher or tailors shop may re-emerge as viable enterprises. You could imagine a universe where retail is divided up between a few massive corporations and a legion of little family businesses, co-existing in distinct niches. Some future shopping mall may not be dominated by glittering high tech store fronts, but by shops selling bespoke and handcrafted goods.

There are also any number of goods where people want to touch and try them out before they buy them, whether its a dress or a sofa people want to see how they look or feel before they commit to them, people are very tactile when it comes to purchasing, just watch people poking and prodding the fruit in any grocery store for proof. Also how often do people go and look at a product in physical store before they go hunting for the best price online? Imagine the irony if future online retail giants have to create 'showrooms' for their potential customers.

One other dystopian possibility is that a future world might really have all the retail carved up between megacorporations all desperately fighting for market share. Imagine the shopper being offered some form of discount scheme. A 'loyalty card' where the loyalty part is taken very seriously by the store issuing it, a scenario in which the brand you shop with is akin to gang colours or national allegiance.

In the end if you want to send your character down to the shops for a pint of blue milk you're probably on solid ground...

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