Thursday, April 20, 2017

Possible Futures – Trial stores

In the not too distant future, there may come a day where the supercomputer – or low level AI – that runs your house notices that you are almost out of toothpaste.  It will then order some, possibly scheduling the delivery to occur at 3 AM so as to not disturb you.  Either an autonomous drone would fly the package to a dronepad on the roof of your house, or an autonomous delivery truck will drive it to your house and a robot will walk it to your front door.  Your botler (robotic butler) will take delivery and place it in the bathroom for you to find in the morning.

But your house wouldn’t just keep you in a steady supply of toilet paper, it would also keep you supplied with bananas, coffee, and mint ice cream.  Instead of you taking a minute to open your cabinets to see what you need and making a list, your house will either just reorder it or you’ll go, “House, I’m hungry for lobster,” and it will arrange to have some flown in to you.  And unless you’re particular about preparing it yourself, your botler will take care of everything.

For people who stick to the same brand of toothpaste, or coffee, or whatever for years, such a setup would be ideal.  But for people who want to try new things, I predict the emergence of what I’m calling trial stores.  These would be stores where, instead of having full size bottles of shampoo, would just have trial sized bottles.  But instead of having just a shelf full of Brand X shampoo, there would be dozens, or hundreds of brands from manufacturers all over the world.  You’d select a handful, take them home and try them.  Any you like you’d tell your house and it would add them to the list of brands to order.  You could have it set up that when you run out of the Number 1 Brand on the list, it orders the Number 2 Brand, and just cycles through them all.  Or you could have it set to random, or you could say to make sure you have Brand Y whenever you’re going on a date, or any other setup you can think of. 

Now these trial stores could be completely autonomous with robots stocking shelves and an Amazon Go style checkout.  There could also be systems – screens or more robots – you could ask for suggestions.  But I think, especially at first to make older people more comfortable, there may be human sommeliers, but for shampoos.  “You’re looking for a flowery shampoo?  Well I tried this Vietnamese brand last week and I really enjoyed it.”

You may be asking, if your house can just order stuff online, why doesn’t it just order a sample pack of a dozen or so types of pudding to see which you like.  That will also happen.  But people like to get out and be with other people.  How often while you’ve been grocery shopping have you seen people who bump into someone they haven’t seen in months?  Probably an important part of a trial store will be a little café for customers to just sit and chat for a bit.  Especially when things can be so easily ordered online, such cafés would be an additional reason to go out.

Automation – in the production and delivery of items – will drastically change the everyday idea of shopping.  We may not end up with trial stores, but the stores we have now won’t last forever.

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