"Fahrenheit 451." "Her." "The Jetsons." Whatever the medium, sci-fi gives us fantasy worlds that wonderfully depict an immersive vision of our future based on a specific perspective. And as far-out as these pieces seemed when they were originally released, a large part of their appeal is how they took existing trends and observations and expanded on them exponentially to create an interesting prediction of the future.
And sometimes, they actually turn out to be right.
With a nod to the great works of sci-fi and a light-hearted take on what the future of shopper marketing is going to look like, I give you a glimpse of our "brave new world." Quite simply, based on what's happening in the market and what's on the way, it's a look at the realm of possibilities.
To caveat: Anything we have today that resembles the world I describe here is either still in the trial/testing stage or is in its infancy. (For example: Macy's is one of a few retailers to slowly roll out Bluetooth beacons in-store; the first wearable tech is only being used by the earliest adopters; 0.001 percent of DHL and Amazon packages are being couriered by drones.) That said, the possibilities are worth pondering, and give insight on how to choose a direction today.
So, let's explore... the future.
Who is the future shopper?
The future shopper no longer carries their wallet, just their smartphone and their iGear. Their touch- and voice-controlled smart watch is used primarily for outward tasks, like calls, texts, and emails. Their smart band is used for more self-centric tasks and tracking -- reminders, notifications, storing and tracking of personal information, as well as medical history and daily exercise and diet. This health connection will be huge, with opt-in tracking by insurance companies so customers can earn better rates based on sustained positive lifestyle choices.
The new crop of smart glasses are shoppers' primary interface, like the smartphone screen used to be. They are eye-movement based, so look-and-blink has replaced swipe-and-click. The future shopper expects supplemental, full inventory selection in-store via tablets in every department with eight different "product acquisition" options (we used to call this "delivery"), including same-hour drone drop-off. They demand all merchants accept mobile and watch payments, credit cards, and bit coin currencies. Cash is required by the government, but has gone the way of the stamp as something that only geriatric collectors are interested in.
What is future retail?
The "e" in e-commerce now stands for "everywhere." Brands and retailers have stopped trying to decide who gets the sale credit when a customer is driven into a store by online messaging, finds their desired item out of stock, and uses an in-store terminal to have another location ship it to their home. "Screen assistants" in every established retail location identify the shopper via Bluetooth and leverage their loyalty profile for product recommendations and targeted 1:1 offers.
The top physical retailers are now battling a retail world war lead by the top Chinese, Russian, and Indian mega chains. Historically online-only retailers are at it too, with China's Alibaba throwing the first stone at Amazon by rapidly setting up physical locations in the emerging "brick and virtual" channel to lure in Gen Z-ers to surf rows of touchscreens with inventories of affordable products that can be shipped to pick-up lockers at their school.
What is the future of brands?
With the big data revolution long dominant, brands now rely on cookies that stick to you -- specifically your iGear, not your internet browser. Purchase history, in-store, and online browsing history, all tracked on a person-by-person basis. Some reject this connection, perceived as an intrusion of privacy -- most let this invisible "fly on the wall" be, understanding the value and enhanced experience with screen assistants and more personalized brand messages. Bio ads replaced mobile ads, meaning you now watch commercials on your smart glasses as you sit on the bus on your way home from work. (You didn't want to pay for ad-free streaming of "Orange is the New Black" season 12.)
Branded hashtags have more importance than social media tracking -- now they're used for purchase metrics, encouraging shoppers to share what hashtag lead them to purchase in exchange for a discount. With people busier than ever, brands have targeted the "time-poor" and have added "time-saved" as a product benefit in the further evolved definition of value. The days of charging for convenience have gone with the dinosaurs and DVDs.
Which of these visions will materialize in our lifetime?
Probably not all of them, but variants on a lot of them are a possibility. Like sci-fi, there are equal parts truth and fiction in this illustration of our shopper future. The thing to remember: just as the wildest sci-fi has to stay within certain parameters (like, humans need oxygen to breath in space), the fundamentals of shopper marketing and the inherent interlock of brands, retailers and shoppers will always stay intact. Moreover, the need for value will reign supreme, no matter what things look like in a market "far, far away..."