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Next: Drone Retail Will Render Big Box Shopping Obsolete

David Staley David Staley Next: Drone Retail Will Render Big Box Shopping ObsoleteIllustration by Walker Evans.
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Amazon has recently secured a patent for “anticipatory package shipping.” Using similar algorithms to those that determine “Featured Recommendations,” Amazon’s system will predict what we are likely to purchase — based on an analysis of our buying habits — and then send those products to nearby fulfillment centers, in anticipation of our placing an order. When we finally do decide to make that purchase, the product can be shipped to our homes in a matter of hours. Amazon is cornering the market for same-day home delivery.

Amazon appears to be morphing into a “retail logistics enterprise,” in the business of fulfilling online orders on the same day. They are already moving into this direction with Amazon Fresh, a service in some areas of the country that allows you to order groceries online and have them delivered to your home. That fleet of drones that Amazon has unleashed is designed to be part of this retail-logistics network, hurrying along same-day delivery. And they have competitors: in the past year and half, Google has developed or acquired robots, drones, driverless cars, same-day delivery services all in anticipation of developing a retail-logistics network.

The “Internet of Things” will very likely be a crucial part of this retail logistics system. When all of our devices are information-emitting and networked with every other device, my future purchases will already be determined for me. When I use up a gallon of milk, my refrigerator will make note of this, and will send that information out to Amazon’s network. Milk will have already been shipped to my nearby fulfillment center; when I finally click on or otherwise indicate that I want to “order more milk,” it will be delivered to my house in the same way my grandparents had daily home milk deliveries.

Twenty years ago, futurists were predicting that online shopping was going to destroy brick-and-mortar retail stores. That script hasn’t exactly played out as predicted, but if Amazon and Google are successful, the retail experience will most certain be disrupted. Specifically, brick-and-mortar retail will be distributed across a fulfillment center-delivery-logistics network. I foresee big box stores almost certainly headed to oblivion. Consumers will no longer fight large crowds or crowded parking lots at Best Buy, but will rather make purchases online and have them at home that evening. It is more likely that in the future we will drive by more large fulfillment centers than we will big box retail stores. I wonder how we will repurpose these hulking cathedrals to consumption?

That is not to say that all retail bricks-and-mortar will be obsolete. Most retail stores will start to look more like Apple stores or Starbucks cafes: smaller and more intimate, with an emphasis on service and experience. Verizon’s Destination Store is a retail “playground” for interacting with Verizon products. Brands are already morphing into experiences rather than tangible things and retail stores will become physical interfaces for experiencing brands.

That drone you hear buzzing above will very likely be the milk you ordered.

David Staley is president of Columbus Futurists and a professor of history and design at The Ohio State University. You have also seen him co-hosting TEDxColumbus.

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Thursday February 19 at 6:30 PM at the Panera Bread community room (875 Bethel Rd.)  Our topic for the evening will be”The Future of 21st Century Skills”.

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