This is the first of several upcoming articles that hypothesize a possible future where people will spend a significant portion of their days inside their homes. This article in particular is about shopping.
On a chilly Thursday in San Francisco, 23-year old Alex wakes up in his apartment to find that his electric razor has stopped working. Without needing to walk past his front door, he gets onto his laptop and shops for a new one while checking his emails. His eyes scan the screen, mentally picking and rejecting products. He finds the perfect combination on Amazon of the categories Best Selling, Highest Rated, and Lowest Priced. Then he hesitates, remembering the mediocre performance of his past electric razors. With a quick Google search of possible alternatives, he finds himself intrigued by the Dollar Shave Club, a company that ships cheap high-quality manual razors monthly to his door. Dreaming of a world where he never has to worry about buying razors, he starts a subscription, and then gets back to his work.
This lifestyle seems almost make-believe, but it reflects how many people shop today. People have been going to markets for thousands of years to get what they need. Twenty years ago, completing transactions online was an option, but it was risky and the process was much less streamlined than it is today. However, after the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000, the e-commerce companies that remained standing have grown into formidable and highly valuable businesses. In 2013, worldwide B2C e-commerce sales amounted to more than 1.2 trillion dollars. Following this enormous growth, people started to change the way that they buy goods and products. Now, instead of relying on their five senses and instinct, people use reviews and suggestions to make purchasing decisions.
An advantage of shopping online is that every customer gets a personal and customized experience based on their interests and past purchasing trends. A male teenager who consistently buys only winter gear might be referred to a sale on snowboards, and doesn’t have to be bothered with news about designer handbags. Each customer is suggested items that are relevant to his or her needs, which is not possible when entering a shopping mall.
Online shopping is no longer something that young and tech-savvy people are aware of. Current statistics state that 40 percent of worldwide internet users have bought goods online via electronic devices. It has become so easy and simple to order online that it is starting to be preferred more than making the trip to stores, even with the added shipping costs. Cyber Monday, a digital alternative to the notorious Black Friday, has seen a 15 percent increase in orders from 2013 to 2014. In 2012, a 5 percent increase in Black Friday sales was overshadowed by a 31.5 percent leap in Cyber Monday sales that same year. With almost every electronic device nowadays connected to the internet, e-commerce is projected to be a rapidly growing industry. 41 percent of traffic for online shopping was from phones and tablets, making it easier to shop while multitasking or on the go.
Now, it’s very unlikely that people will solely shop online and disregard markets and stores. There’s a valuable social aspect of going out and buying goods with others, especially in the case of food. However, for menial tasks like buying the same groceries every month, shopping online provides the easiest and most affordable option. Retailers should start providing a service that allows people to develop a grocery list online, and ship them the goods on the list consistently after a time interval.
So where is the future of shopping headed? Will most transactions occur online, while products are kept in storage facilities ready to be shipped? With growing advances in areas of technology like self-driving cars and drones, costs of shipping will go down over time, giving all the more reason to buy goods online. Once augmented reality is available, it will be possible for customers to know exactly what they’re buying, as they could test a quick demo or see the product in action in virtual space. As shopping evolves to something that takes place online, people will have more time to complete other pursuits, and one less reason to leave their homes.