Editor's Note: Back during the holiday shopping season of 2011, when the iPad and Siri were new, and the Amazon Echo, Uber and drone deliveries were just a figment of our imagination, I wrote a speculative piece about what the future of shopping might be like, ten years in the future, from the perspective of a typical up-market consumer, named "Mindy."
With the proposed $14B purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon some six years later I thought it might be a good time for us to see if the technologies and market trends that were brought up in this fanciful but near-futuristic piece are any closer to reality in June of 2017 -- Jason Perlow
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, SHORT PULL. 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.
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?
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?
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 a 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 low-fat 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 2 PM. Delivery trucks, assisted by sophisticated GIS systems for route planning were much more efficient and timely, especially since fewer people were traveling 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."
What do you think shopping will look like in 2021? Talk Back and Let Me Know.