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Brislen on Tech: Shop til you drop

Paul Brislen, Editor. 12 February 2021, 11:00 am

I like shopping but I hate going to the shops.

It's a problem because the shops are generally where they keep the good stuff that I want to buy.

I'm OK in cafes and restaurants - my time behind the apron serves me well in this regard - but retail stores tend to really get up my nose. You're either queuing, being pestered, (or conversely, not being helped when you need it), or they don't have quite what you're after. And then, when you do find the thing you want (or a close facsimile of the same) you have to stand around watching them do inventory before they'll let you take the goods away.

Retailing in 2045

Don't get me started on the Hellmouth (aka, shopping malls) or staff who clearly do not know what they're talking about (Noel Leemings, I'm looking at you) and who don't take kindly when I point out the Consumer Guarantees Act means you don't need to buy that expensive extended warrantee for your goods (still looking at you, Noel).

Fortunately we have the internet and I get to avoid all of that by buying stuff I don't need online. I can browse, I can compare prices, I can compare similar products and I can do it all from the comfort of my bed, bath or beyond.

That's a retail pun. I can get them for you wholesale.

But the internet has its downsides too. I'm well over websites telling me they won't ship to New Zealand (generally only after I've made the detailed selection I need to and entered in all my details and chosen a shipping cost and all the rest). I'm over goods taking months to arrive and I'm well over shipping costs that are higher than the price of the item I'm shipping.

And don't get me started (again) on the exorbitant fees charged for using a credit card and there's no way I'm using POLi so don't even ask.

As for couriers, well…. We have issues. From being told "overnight delivery" is more of a trademarked name than an actual delivery schedule (when buying fresh foods from a South Island company that had slathered "DO NOT EAT IF DELIVERED AFTER FRIDAY" all over the box - which then sat in the warehouse about a kilometre from my house for the weekend) to couriers signing for their own products or flinging them into the garden.

But the upsides of online shopping are tremendous and immediate. I can access a range of goods that no local provider will stock. I can buy generally at a price far below the local vendor for similar items and I can get access to goods that won't be available in New Zealand through traditional stores for quite some time.

Month on month, and indeed year on year, deliveries of goods bought online have increased in New Zealand, according to New Zealand Post's eCommerce Spotlight research. The company uses deliveries through its courier brands as a proxy for economic data and it's a good one. They have the lion's share of the delivery market and can see we spent around $5.8 billion on goods - a jump of 25% on the 2019 stats.

In-store retail spending has grown, albeit at a slower rate and from a much higher base. Paymark data (disclaimer: I do some work for Paymark as well as edit this blog) suggests 2020 spending is on par with 2019 spending despite the COVID-19 related lockdowns and drop in tourism and associated activities.  But the base spending is still very high and there's no end in sight of going into shops to buy stuff.

So where to for shopping? What does a shopping experience in 25 years' time look like? I'm not talking about groceries or daily shopping but the retail experience itself.

I suspect we're going to see shops morph into something more like a showroom experience. Browse real world products that you want to try out in person (couches and beds spring to mind but also perhaps those bespoke items that you want to handle before you buy) and leaf through digital catalogues (hopefully in VR by then) to make your decision. Shop assistants will have to become retail concierges, able to guide and support decision making instead of being pimply youths with all-encompassing lives that must be discussed at high volume from behind the counter.

Good will be paid for without any need for plastic cards and frankly I cannot wait. I'm sick of my wallet and its propensity for being where I am not. I pay mostly with my Apple Watch or phone and in 25 years' time I suspect we'll be making purchases using facial rec or similar with sign off from devices that have evolved from phones. I'm hoping for a slab of plastic from The Expanse but I'll settle for something in my pocket that beams information to my glasses thanks all the same.

Products will be delivered rather than taken away but delivery times will be measured in minutes not days and probably it'll be a kid on a e-bike rather than a van with a route.

Online shopping has to evolve too. The current model seems locked in to shopping from a desktop computer when my user experience is more about the mobile device. I shop online as much when I'm out and about via my phone as I do from my computer at home and that trend isn't going away any time soon.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can see a pair of shoes in a shop window, point my phone at them, get the price checked, order them for delivery in my size and not have to stand there tapping all that info into a stupid online form. My phone already remembers my passwords and bank details, not to mention my email, billing and delivery addresses so why not give it the lot. Shoe size, inside leg measurements, hat size and all the rest.

Of course, I'll need a budgeting app by then as well but that's another story.


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