We won't have transporters or flying cars in the next 10 years but, in many ways, the future of shopping is already here. Modern technology is steadily making it easier to shop by offering a plethora of online stores, mobile coupons, Facebook deals, group-buying coupons and much more.
According to PSFK Consulting, smarter mobile devices and improved GPS technologies provide shoppers with details about the retail environment before they even visit the store. Whether paying for purchases through a hand-held device or scoping out products via barcodes, technology is rapidly changing the shopping process.
In addition, connected devices -- whether a mobile phone or a web-enabled in-store kiosk -- are making what once was a solitary trip to the store a socially connected event. As shoppers go through the process of discovering new products, testing them and reflecting on their purchases, they're sharing these thoughts with their social networks and influencing their peer groups.
As technology develops, reliability will be a priority, which is why retailers are starting with the limited tests detailed below. As the more daring retailers see it, however, potential benefits outweigh the risks. They're hoping sales will increase with more aggressive profiling of shoppers and novel, entertaining shopping experiences.
In essence, consumers are going to find shopping a lot more fun and high tech very soon. Here are 15 exciting ways the future of shopping is now.
1. Interactive Store Windows
Always window-shopping but never stopping to buy? You'll soon be able to do both with point-and-swish store windows at items. The tech is everything we lusted after in Tom Cruise's movie "Minority Report."
The 3M Multi-Touch Monitor, unveiled in late February at the CeBIT IT fair in Hanover, Germany, allows you to shop with a sweep of your hand. A series of infrared cameras register the movements of your hand and instantly transmit them to a large screen in the shop window. You simply point to the desired dress, hat, shoes or whatever, and a new menu appears showing the item in 3D, along with available sizes, colors and, of course, price.
With another wave of your hand, the item will rotate, change color and scroll through similar products. When you decide to take the plunge, simply point at the "checkout" icon and pay by placing a smartphone against the glass. It's secure, easy and, of course, 24/7.
2. Zoom Your Way Through Grocery Stores
As big-box stores approach 250,000 square feet, many designers are interested in helping you get around faster. One possible idea is the UNIT shopping cart by Liubov Kurzanova. The cart features a retractable platform for the shopper to stand on while they use the steering wheel to scoot around the store on a rechargeable electric motor. The control panel also features an LCD screen to, among other things, help shoppers find items within the store.
The really big innovation here is the barrel-shaped body with a flexible nylon net that droops into the barrel as you add items. The net then retracts as you remove your groceries at checkout, so you never have to bend to retrieve your purchases.
3. Skateboard-Powered Shopping Carts
Hate getting stuck in an aisle behind a slow shopper? Volkswagen is working to solve this problem. The Polo GTI is a skateboard-powered cart created to speed up the shopping experience and help you zoom around slow pokes. North America hasn’t embraced this newly designed cart yet, perhaps because it may cause a litigious frenzy.
4. All-In-One Shopping Carts
Springboard/Mercatus developed the Concierge system: "a small LCD touchscreen attached to a cart's handle that can ease your way through the grocery store. The screen will both show you a map of the store, (including where items are located in each aisle) while tracking where you are within the store to show you sale items.
Swipe your loyalty card on the cart and it'll tell you the items you’ve purchased in the past that are on sale this week. You can also scan product barcodes as you place them in the cart and they’ll automatically be added to your card number (and removed from the store’s inventory). When finished, you simply swipe your loyalty and debit cards to pay up.
5. Point, Click and Purchase
Mobile apps like Stripey Lime, ShopSavvy and ScanLife use barcode-scanning or image recognition, which allows you to instantly research products, check pricing and availability, and make purchases. Some shoppers are already outwitting retailers, using mobile apps like RedLaser to compare prices in a physical store to those on the Web.
6. Real-time Building Wallscapes
As the saying goes, "If only these walls could talk." In the case of the "N "building in Japan, they actually do. In fact, the entire building's facade was transformed into a real-time dialogue between smartphones and the store's interior. All you do is hold your phone up to the walls and the constantly changing, real-time codes tell you what’s going on inside while allowing you to access store Tweets. You can also browse shop information, make reservations and download coupons.
7. It's All About Your Friends
Your peeps often share your tastes, a fact that hasn't bypassed the industry's attention. Last year, Google launched its version of the "recommendation" engine with Hotpot; Facebook changed the structure of business profiles to give them a friendlier appearance; and Foursquare allows shoppers to let friends, family and acquaintances know exactly where they're shopping, dining or getting a massage.
8. Digital Looking Glasses
What would you do to by-pass changing rooms and optimize your shopping time? How about accessing a virtual mirror that allows you to digitally try on clothing in real time? Simply scroll through selections in mid-air with a swipe of your hand, select an outfit that catches your eye, instantly change into and out of it with another swipe, then pay with your smartphone.
9. Online Grocery Shopping
New York has FreshDirect and Chicago has Peapod. Across the country there are various Internet-based services, like NetGrocer or Schwan's, that deliver groceries and other household goods to your door. Life is good when you can order up a bunch of bananas in your pajamas.
10. Nagging Reminders
IBM's Presence tracks your path through a store and reminds you of things you might have forgotten. The system beams coupons to your phone in real time as you walk through the aisles and suggests items that would go well with the one you just put in your cart.
11. Real-Time Coupons
Some supermarkets are working on offering customers real-time coupons while they shop. For example, a promotion for milk may be sent to your mobile phone the moment your cart rolls into the dairy aisle.
You can already download virtual coupons at checkout, using such technology as that offered by the Coupon Sherpa mobile coupons app, so this seems like the next logical step.
12. Insider Access
Developers have overlaid Google Maps data to build mobile app with maps of indoor space. Services like Point Inside use this data to help consumers move physically along an indoor map.
Alternately, Cisco Systems' Mobile Concierge connects customers’ smartphones to retailers’ wireless networks, so you can type “Wonder Bread” into your phone and pinpoint its location in the store.
13. Visit The Store Before Your Trip
Google launched an initiative providing shoppers with an inside view of a location’s setting, layout, facilities, ambiance, merchandise and decor without taking a single step. Google gathers the data by having photographers visit retail businesses to build an interactive tool for customers.
14. Webcams Show Which Locations Are Crowded
In an effort to lessen waiting times and prevent overcrowding at Singapore’s health clinics, the country’s Ministry of Health developed Queue Watch, an online service that provides a real-time picture of each location. An interactive map reveals not just the number of patients waiting for registration and consultation, but also live webcam images showing the waiting areas for registration, consultation and pharmacy payment.
15. Instant Credit Card Machines
A small plastic-card reader fits into your smartphone or tablet computer, transferring credit card or gift card swipe data to an app. After an employee enters the amount to charge, you'll confirm by simply entering your signature on the touch screen. The receipt is instantly sent to your email address. The Square app already offers such technology, although many merchants have yet to catch up.