Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

Summary: Ten years from now, virtually all shopping will take place at home.

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TOPICS: Amazon
41

Edgewater, New Jersey.

Mindy Konsumer was in waking sleep when she heard the sound of birds tweeting. They progressively got louder, and louder and louder.

She pulled the covers over her head. "Ugh. Why did Josef set it to those horrible birds again instead of my wind chimes?"

"Bitch, deactivate the alarm. I'm up."

YES MINDY. GOOD MORNING. IT IS MONDAY, 8:30AM, THE 29TH OF NOVEMBER, 2021. SHALL I PRIME THE ESPRESSO MAKER NOW, OR SHALL I WAIT UNTIL YOU EXIT THE SHOWER?

"Prime me my standard double right now, Bitch. I've got some shopping to do first."

YES MINDY. DOUBLE ESPRESSO, DOUBLE STRENGTH WITH EXTENDED BREW TIME. ONE SPLENDA.

Mindy was always cranky in the mornings. The first time Josef brought in their first Apple Siri iHome automation system and it woke her up it really pissed her off.

She's been calling it "Bitch" ever since. The intelligent agent could care less now, but it originally asked her if she was upset. Now it was simply routine.

And at age 50, while she was exceptionally perky and fit, Mindy wasn't getting any younger. Or patient. God, she hated the holidays.

Josef, her husband, had already woken up about an hour earlier. She walked out of the bedroom and past his office, where he was staring at the data streaming on his 4K wall displays and was barking orders on a three way conference call with the home office in Beijing and his traders in Mumbai.

She waved to him and blew a kiss, but he seemed too engrossed in what he was doing. She continued downstairs, and headed into the kitchen, where she could hear the Philips Saeco i7000 superautomatic grinding the coffee and priming its pumps.

ESPRESSO IS READY TO PULL, MINDY.

Mindy grabbed a pre-warmed demitasse cup from the Saeco's heater rack and put it under the coffee spout.

"Pull Bitch."

Fifteen seconds later, a steaming hot cup of espresso was ready. "Hey bitch, how are we doing on coffee supplies?"

APPROXIMATELY EIGHT OUNCES OF FREE TRADE CITY ROAST BRAZILIAN BEANS ARE REMAINING IN THE HOPPER. THE PANTRY HAS ONE POUND OF COSTMART MEDIUM ROAST GUATEMALAN. BASED ON CURRENT CONSUMPTION RATES, NEW SUPPLIES WILL BE REQUIRED IN ONE WEEK. SHOULD I PRE-ORDER BASED ON EXISTING PREFERENCES?

"Yes Bitch. You think I'm pissed off now, wait until we run out of coffee."

I MUST INFORM YOU BASED ON YOUR DEAL SNIPER THAT COSTMART HAS POSTED A SALE THIS WEEK ON FIVE POUND BAGS OF DARK ROAST COSTA RICAN SINGLE ESTATE BEANS. WOULD YOU LIKE THAT INSTEAD?

"Sounds good."

YES MINDY.

Mindy takes a sip and walks into the living room. She's wearing just her underwear. It's a good thing they don't have kids.

"Screen, Bitch. I need to buy some clothes for our Christmas trip to Saint Martin."

The 80 inch 4K super-sized wall monitor came to life, and Amazon.com's clothing portal appeared. Mindy had shopped at Amazon for clothes before, so the system was already familiar with the brands she liked.

Size isn't a problem either, as the ultra-high-resolution Microsoft Kinect V 3D camera had taken Mindy's precise full body metrics. The load sensor mat underneath the carpeting had also calibrated for the fact that her exercise regimen of XBOX 4K 3D kickboxing has kept her weight under control as well.

Bitch would have already told her if she was putting on the pounds anyway.

"Tee shirts, and bathing suits please."

A virtual clothing rack appeared on the screen. Using the Kinect motion sensing and tracking interface, Mindy picked out a bunch of items, and tried them on using the augmented reality preview mode that superimposed the clothes on her body. She then added them to her basket.

Everything personalized, just the way she liked it.

THE ORDER WILL BE IN THREE SHIPMENTS, AS THREE AMAZON PARTNER VENDORS WILL BE PROCESSING IT. HERE ARE YOUR ESTIMATED DELIVERY DATES. CHECKOUT, MINDY?

"Yeah Bitch."

PROCESSED. I'VE SAVED THE INVOICE IN YOUR INBOX.

"And send a reminder to Josef that he needs to get new tee shirts and bathing suits. His old ones are gross and have holes in them."

PROCESSED. REMINDER SENT TO JOSEF.

It used to be that you had to go to the mall to go clothes shopping. Ten years ago, Bergen County had five huge shopping malls. It made things an utter traffic nightmare. Parking was insane, especially this time of year.

But in 2012, online shopping really began to hurt brick and mortar. Enabling technology such as smartphone and tablet apps, and then advanced user interfaces with augmented reality and biometrics eventually eliminated the need to get in the car and waste hours (and pricey gasoline) going back and forth and dealing with packed shops and long lines.

But for Mindy it wasn't about the gas, since her plug-in electric Cadillac Voltec hybrid SUV got really good mileage. it was about the aggravation.

In 2016, Macy's shut down their brick and mortar operations and became a catalog supplier to Amazon and other e-tailer portals. Other large retail chains, such as Sears (which returned to its catalog roots) began to do the same.

Without anchor department stores, the malls themselves had a hard time staying open.

In 2017 two of the largest shopping centers in Northern New Jersey closed down.

By 2019, nearly 80 percent of the retail space in the entire state had been vacated. Many of the smaller strip malls were bulldozed and were turned into residential zoning and parks again.

Some of it, such as the two larger malls which were fallow for several years, were re-configured into more entertainment-style complexes with "Showroom" stores for the types of items that didn't make sense to buy or made it difficult to test out online, such as large appliances or even cars.

But they didn't need to keep things in stock, it was all fulfilled by demand, and delivered right to your front door.

And some of the empty space was even reclaimed for urban and suburban agriculture projects. Northern New Jersey could finally call itself part of the Garden State again. Huge hydroponic greenhouses filled the land plots where other malls once stood.

Now you could get ripe Jersey Fresh tomatoes and other produce at farmers markets year-round.

Of course, a lot of consolidation occurred as well. Costco and Wal-Mart merged to become the largest brick and mortar merchant for food, consumables and durable goods -- Costmart, although much of what they sold went through their own electronic portals, as well as through others such as Amazon.

Amazon itself merged with Target, which it used as local retail showrooms for large durable goods and distribution centers.

Best Buy merged with Staples, and ended up grabbing the business brand names and customer lists of every single mid-sized regional store chain you could imagine, once many of them declared Chapter 7.

Mindy finished her coffee. Her stomach started rumbling. She needed breakfast. But maybe it might be a good idea to think about what to cook for dinner.

"Bitch, what does our food inventory look like?"

MINDY, BASED ON PRODUCE AND PROTEINS IN THE REFRIGERATOR AND FREEZER, AND THE EXISTING MENU PLAN, YOU SHOULD SHOP FOR FOOD TODAY. THE SCALLIONS AND BROCCOLI IN THE FRIDGE SHOULD BE CONSUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, AS SHOULD THE 1LB OF FLANK STEAK.

Ah, right. She had planned for a stir fry tonight. Every item in the fridge, freezer and pantry had an RFID tag. Bitch knew everything there was to eat, and how quickly it was being consumed. Biogas detectors in the food bins and on the refrigerator shelves could also make Mindy aware of what was going ripe. It really cut down on food waste that way.

Based on what was in inventory, It could recommend dishes to cook, or conversely, Mindy could stock up the house with food based on recipes she tagged while watching interactive TV or reading her favorite cookbooks on her Kindle Fire or her husband's iPad.

Mindy's supermarket trip was similar to her clothing shopping spree. Costmart uses a virtual reality store with aisles and shelves filled with virtual merchandise, including generic store items and popular brands. But Mindy never left the house to buy food.

Some items Bitch automatically filled as staples, such as lowfat milk, whole grain bread, and the organic skinless boneless chicken breast that she liked. Mindy looked at the endcaps for deals and impulse buys, and Bitch made her aware of what other of her favorite types of items were on sale, like the DNA-certified Maine Lobster which was on special that week.

If Mindy had any questions about ingredients in a particular item, Bitch could tell her right away. Anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup on it was auto-blacklisted and didn't even show up on the shelf. Costmart entered a distribution agreement with Whole Foods back in 2016, so many of the SKUs that Mindy liked came from their database.

When her order was complete, it was sent to the local Costmart Retail Food Processing Center (RFPC). Mindy happened to opt for home delivery and pay the extra fee for the privilege, but if she wanted, she could drive down to the local RFPC and pick up her order and have it loaded into her car, as long as it was within at least a two hour time window.

Some people drove down there to pick up their orders late at night, just to avoid traffic.

Mindy was happy enough to get the food by 2PM. Delivery trucks, assisted by sophisticated GIS systems for route planning were much more efficient and timely, especially since less people were travelling the roads.

And the packaging? Far less than you had to deal with in the old days. Since all shopping was done online, the idea of complex, visually attractive boxes and bags for most types of food and durable goods no longer made any sense.

A lot of stuff ended up in flat vacuum-sealed packets or cryovac, with simple labels, and optimized for space efficiency in the fridge and freezer. That's one good thing from NASA's Space Shuttle and the ISS programs which translated directly to the consumer market.

Mindy looked at her watch. It was 8:54 AM. As lead project manager for an IT services firm, she had a kickoff meeting for a large consulting engagement she had to get into gear in North Korea that morning. Thank God she got all her shopping done, because it was going to be a very busy day.

Her oatmeal and shower would have to wait until after her conference call.

"Activate my secure corporate virtual desktop session in my office, Bitch. And open the conference line to Pyongyang."

YES MINDY.

What do you think shopping will look like in 2021? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topic: Amazon

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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41 comments
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  • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

    Honestly, I see what your were going for, but I stopped caring about this article and just skipped to the end after the fifth "bitch".
    Aerowind
    • If you ever used Siri

      @Aerowind
      you'd be calling it the same thing, too. ;)
      William Farrell
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @Aerowind

      same, except for me it was the third.
      wendellgee2
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @Aerowind - Same here, it was a 'bitch' to read!
      vbjack72
  • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

    Not unless someone figures out how to monetize the "I need to touch it before I buy it" issue. I've learned my lesson the hard (aka expensive) way. Even trivial things like bath towels and water glasses can go horribly wrong when bought online without touching them beforehand.
    Vesicant
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @Vesicant I completely agree with you. There are still purchases that need to be viewed before they can be bought. I think brick and mortar stores will have to learn to adapt to a changing marketplace -- I believe most shoppers still prefer a knowledgeable salesman when needed rather than (a) a vacant sales floor where you can't find ANYONE when you need them or (b) some untrained, non product-aware lackey who hovers over you because they work on commission.
      jkumin
      • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

        @jkumin@... The touch before buy thing is why I go to a B&M store to decide whether or not to make the purchase online. More often than not I try products out at Best Buy, then check the price at Amazon on my phone and buy it that way. B&M is dying for 2 reasons: Price competition, and convenience. People are to busy to go to a store and waste time in traffic, when the same product can be ordered online, for a lower price without any hassle.
        nekkibasara
      • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

        @jkumin@...

        Shame on you nekkibasara. If you go to a B&M store, you have a moral obligation to purchase there. If you buy online for less, you get less service, period, that's why it's cheaper.

        I can see a point in the future where B&M will have to charge you for their time and refund it if you purchase. What other choice do they have? It costs much more to maintain stores, pay employees and then, you have to pay tax there and not online......that's a pretty stiff headwind for the B&M guys.
        bcanddc
      • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

        @jkumin@...

        I agree, but we are looking 10 years into the future. Also, think of Amazon today. They make it really easy to return stuff you don't like, so if those towels come and they aren't soft enough, or the pillows don't have quite enough stuffing (a pet peeve of mine), they let you return them. Take that to the next degree and let simmer for ten years and you might find that most people will buy online.

        But, your point is still a good one.
        AudeKhatru
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @Vesicant

      Agreed, this is especially the case with things like beds & shoes.
      Frenz9
  • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

    Hey, I enjoy shopping. Seeing, touching, talking, etc.
    Have some of you forgotten how pleasurable life can be.
    Slow done live a little. Very little really has to be done quickly.
    Where I shop and eat and get my car fixed the people working there are my friends.
    The whole experience is rich and interesting. We talk, we have dialogue, we have fun.
    I enjoy the world and the people in it.

    Get a life.
    I am NOT a consumer, I'm a human being, a citizen, etc.
    Technology is good where it is appropiate but not for it's own sake.

    Thanks
    AAC Tech
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @AAC Tech
      I agree with you but we are WWWAAAAAYYYY in the minority anymore!

      People simply have an insatiable desire to get everything as cheaply as possible!
      bcanddc
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @AAC Tech

      Someone else with a good point. I can easily see this exact scenario happening, and there being a strong backlash against it. Some stores remain to sell items that don't quite work online. You can easily buy a bag of coffee online, because you really don't have to feel it. Even can of Del Monte Corn is going to be the same, but there are places where we will want the human touch, and many people will reject the future described above. I might not be one of them, but I can see where others would.
      AudeKhatru
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @AAC Tech I agree with that wholeheartedly. Reading this article made me want to cry. It's one of the single most depressing concepts of the future, a world devoid of real human interaction. I like REAL LIFE shopping. I like knowing where I got a product (and by that, I don't mean the address on a shipping label). I like knowing the people who were there when I bought it. I like human interaction. As it is, I go a little bit stir-crazy if I have to sit at home all the time. I like being out in the world, and this concept scares me.

      Realistically, I doubt what's going on in this article will happen that quickly, that's not just hope talking.
      xamountofwords
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @AAC Tech
      "I am NOT a consumer, I'm a human being, a citizen, etc.
      Technology is good where it is appropiate but not for it's own sake."

      Amen to that! I suspect most opposing posts to this are by people who also buy the latest & greatest of every update, upgrade, personal device, social dues clubs, etc. etc. without having the faintest idea whether it holds ANYTHING of any real use to them! Progress for the sake of progress is regression.
      tomaaaaaa1
  • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

    Question number ONE with all this is "Where are all the people who used to work in said 'brick and mortar' stores going to work?"

    Take a good-sized store and you're talking about 50 to 100 people altogether. Take a bigger department store and you're talking of hundreds of employees, from the manager to the lowliest janitor. Repeat by however many stores there are in your town or city, multiply by cities in your state, add all other 49 states, and you'll have put more than 60% of the city's work force on the dole. What's left? Manufacturing? That's already left the continent, and gone to Asia. Mining? It's being phased out in certain parts as too dirty.

    I would see it happen if the population were but a few million. We could get it done that way, with the help of a lot of robots to do the dirty and dangerous work. But we are BILLIONS!!! on this planet. So your fancy is just never going to happen, leaving aside the "need" for people to touch the actual merchandise (which is a very real need).

    Food stores, from the supermarket down to the corner convenience store employ from nearly 100 people to just a family operation. You think they are not going to fight for their livelihood? Amazon will die first if it tries to expand to that level. So will your Costmart.

    Your vision was fanciful but can't happen because of population pressure. They will need income and most of that comes from retail businesses, not distribution centers.
    bart001fr1
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @bart001fr@...

      I have to disagree. Amazon killed Borders....how many people are crying? Yes, people did lose their jobs, with an emphasis on the "DID." I am not painting this as a good thing. In fact, if you look at present trends, and push them into the future, I could see a privileged few living the life described above, and huge employed underclass.

      In fact, it could be the recipe for a sort of Social Holocaust, where, after years of mass unemployment and poverty, that underclass rises up and tears down the civilization that has marginalized them.

      Also, the future described is clearly a western future, as the impoverished parts of the world will have a hard time participating in such a future. Poor countries in South America, Africa and elsewhere are going to have a hard time supporting Costmart, just as they don't have Wal-mart and Costco today.
      AudeKhatru
    • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

      @bart001fr@...

      Just because it will cause a great deal of pain for a lot of people doesn't mean it won't happen. This is no different than any other disruptive technology that has come along. Every disruptive technology kills jobs, raises overall societal efficiency, and new industries eventually absorb the glut. Long term net gain.

      It does not make sense to refuse efficiency gains due to job loss. If is as absurd as tying retail employees legs together while working to increase employment.

      Unfortunately, at some point in the not-too-distant future we are going to get machines that don't just replace humans at a specific task, but replace humans outright. At which point we REALLY have to re-think the idea of an economy.

      "You think they are not going to fight for their livelihood?"

      How would you suggest they fight? If they are to the point of fighting, they are already past the point of competing. The best they could hope to gain would be some kind of government-mandated protectionism exemplifying the worst traits of unions.
      SlithyTove
      • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

        @SlithyTove & @AudeKhatru,

        So you guys want to live in a Soylent Green world as was so aptly put by blkarkitect lower down. You think you'll be on the inside? Think again. Only the world's billionaires and a very few millionaires (who have 100s of millions) will will be inside. The rest of the world will be outside.

        I guess this civilization is headed for a teardown and do over.

        Just what happened to the Romans. (And that's only the latest civ it happened to.)

        I guess future archeologists will really scratch their heads over what tore this one down.
        bart001fr1
      • RE: Retail in 2021: When clicks have buried bricks

        @bart001fr

        "So you guys want to live in a Soylent Green world as was so aptly put by blkarkitect lower down."

        To throw that back at you: do you really want to live in Medieval times when the only way to improve standard of living was through killing people via disease and war?

        Of course I don't want to live in a Soylent Green world. But making ourselves less efficient for the sake of jobs is MORE likely to put us into a Soylent Green world, not less.

        There are ways out of this that don't involve paying people to dig ditches with spoons.
        SlithyTove