Business Times

Customised and waste-free

By Jagdish Hathiramani

In continuing the Business Times' tomorrowSERIES of features exploring life in the distant, or even nearer, future, and following on from last time's piece on tomorrowEDUCATION, we thought we'd again spend some time delving into yet another area of day-to-day life which everyone is familiar with: Shopping.

Shopping as a menial task will soon prove redundant, replaced by a function carried out by the kitchen of the future which will be only too happy to automatically order ingredients based on pre-programmed menus. File pic shows fruit filled displays at a supermarket.

Whether you are a house- wife or house-husband, a single professional businessperson or even a school kid, you have definitely done copious amounts of shopping throughout your life. Today, even our pets have the ability to shop, with an increasing number of outlets catering specifically to them.

Even if it is just out of necessity, or as part of some full-fledged hobby or competition; shopping for food, clothes, etc. is just another universe we encounter virtually every day. As such, while the pleasure of shopping is unlikely to be traded away in the future, the hassle and waiting around inherent in the shopping experience has been targeted for elimination; or so the relevant experts assure us.

Before we truly jump into the widening canvass that is the future world of shopping or tomorrowSHOPPING, it is important for us to explain that much of the conceptualising which has been undertaken in this field only caters to the medium term of 10 to 15 years, 2022 in fact is the farthest date for prediction that I have encountered. As such, excuse us as we are somewhat limited in this flight of fancy. Interestingly, this may be because, as some have argued that, and if much of the technology outlined in our own tomorrowHOME feature is anything to go by; shopping as a menial task will soon prove redundant, replaced by a function carried out by the kitchen of the future which will be only too happy to automatically order ingredients based on pre-programmed menus.

However, as pertains to shopping malls, the social aspect of going to a mall may very well eventually overshadow tendencies to shop for pleasure. A case in point is the Apple store experience where people don't go to buy but rather interact with others and sample iPhones, iPads, iTunes, etc. Products which they often order online, usually customised.

In the short haul however, technological innovations such as Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chips, intelligent foam, etc. will alter our perception shopping to an almost unfathomable degree, offering up effects that will change the face of grocery stores, supermarkets, and even clothing and other shops. These technologies, already being used in concept retail spaces today, are all set to overwhelm such hassles as waiting in line for the cashier or even cashiers themselves. These will also make every interaction with the shops of the future into a self service one similar in some ways to using an Automated Teller Machine but a lot less intensive, if you can imagine it.

This is because RFIDs tagged to products combined with intelligent foam covered surfaces will allow instantaneous check-out when products are lifted off their surface contact point or even when they are tracked leaving the store in someone’s possession, the person who will then be charged the relevant fee for the product. This RFID tag also allows a whole gamut of automated services, from inventory control to queue control and even recipe or usage suggestions, etc. as well as the chance to reduce waste as packaging no longer becomes necessary, as RFID includes more and more data and mobile smart devices are tasked with identifying more and more functions associated with the product.

Meanwhile, while RFIDs, intelligent foam and even mobile smart devices, such as today’s mobile phone which everybody owns, can benefit multiple stores formats, trends show that grocery stores of the future may only become more specialised, such as with stores becoming organic today, etc. In fact, some forecasters suggest that the future for these stores may be in-store hydroponic pods where certain fruits, vegetables, etc. can grow and be picked right from trees to guarantee freshness. Or , at the same time, data would allow shoppers to track every step in each product’s life cycle so they can choose their own or apply their own methodology to choosing what they like.

Suggested additions for future stores also include automated self service kiosks which help you plan your food budget, sommeliers to suggest wines, compare vintages and even allow you to taste samples, recycling management to facilitate the after use of products you buy or have at home, etc.
In the meantime, while all your usage patterns being tracked may be chilling to some, this would mean that there will no longer be a need for you to carry a shopping list as data reader devices will be able to remind you if you have forgotten something or recommend similar items to those you have historically liked, just like does today with online shoppers. But beware, listen to your doctors when they tell you what you can and cannot eat because otherwise one day they may control what you can or cannot buy if they place an emergency medical alert or a lock on certain foods or beverages.

Additionally, clothing and other such stores in the future may just become experiential or social venues as clothes and other items become made-to-order to improve fit or even usability, while at the same time reducing wastage. Full body scans using sensors will facilitate real-time trying on of clothes or using of products as a part of increasingly realistic virtual reality worlds to try before you order. With sampling soon to become the main function of stores.

Shopping malls may actually feel the most radical changes according to predictions because, when products cease to be the focus, the dynamics of these will also change. Some suggest that they may increase their scope to any number of areas such as growing food, manufacturing products, generating electricity and even providing education, if needed.

In conclusion, maybe the only real clue of the distant future of shopping is the example of the Ainsworth Collective located in the Cully neighbourhood of the US city of Portland, Oregon. This group of 50 households joined together out of a mutual need for sustainability and community and, as such, has created its own micro economy. The basis of which is a list of service published for access by members, all to encourage local transactions. Offering anything from tax preparation and massage services to cat-baby sitting, etc., this functionality allows them to facilitate the sharing of tools and cars as well as buying in bulk. They even have their own farmer’s market which sells their extra produce, baked goods and other items made by its members. Is this a step forward or backward? You decide.

The columnist can be reached at

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