Posts Tagged With: shopping

At a computer near you: Customized culture

Kinchan1. Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Flickr.
April 19, 2010.

Public entertainment is an Industrial Age phenomenon.  Beloved ball parks, shopping malls, cinemas, symphony centers, restaurants, and theaters are less traditions than innovations.  They helped to foster the cultural diversity and social equality that we cherish today.  Surprising though it may be, their continued presence in the Information Age is not guaranteed.  Youthful consumers are already making the transition to online shopping and entertainment.  The advantages of online commerce for both customers and businesses are already evident to many of us.  For Americans, our striving for convenience is amply rewarded by online shopping.  Our demands for freedom of speech are fulfilled by social media.

Despite concerns about Main Street, small businesses, publishing, and the postal service, American values are still supported by online commerce and communication.  It is the development and institutionalization of social norms to govern our participation with which we are struggling.  As we learn from sometimes sad experience, we are writing policies and passing laws to make the Information Age pleasanter and safer for all of us.  These formal rules enable institutions to protect us from unethical businesses and predatory criminals.  It is public events that lack the security we now need because our famed ingenuity has yet to find solutions.

Stories of shopping downtown, walking the mall, riding public transportation, and cheering at sports events are now fraught with tragedy.  The achievements of national and international athletes are overshadowed by the heroic recoveries of victims and first responders.  Memories of finding treasures on sale at the mall are lost in experiences of bullying or assault in the parking garage.  The feeling and experience of security that should be each individual’s birth right is escaping our grasp.  Its restoration may only be practically possible at home. High definition television, international radio broadcasts, downloadable music, films, and books, and home theaters enable us to choose our recreational companions.

We can also feel confident in the safety of that venue; wireless alarm systems, automatic exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, electronic locks, and gated communities are affordable to homeowners.  Routine overtime hours for police officers, federal background investigations, and securing public places through environmental design prior to sports and entertainment events would overwhelm the budgets of communities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  Paradoxically, then, our virtual relationships will burgeon due to international social media.  At the same time, the local, public, in person mass gatherings that foster so much community loyalty will gradually disappear.  Protests and nostalgia over the closing of department stores such as Marshall Fields, bakers such as Hostess, and local cinemas will be replaced.  Virtual friendships in online communities, individual online reviews of restaurants and retailers by customers, and online shopping malls will enable both the conviviality and security we need.  What’s your screen name?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Just in time shopping: The smart closet

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley notwithstanding, shopping can seem magical today.  If it weren’t for the human delivery person and the wait for his or her arrival, the whole process might seem downright ethereal.  Isn’t loading that virtual shopping cart with clicks and beeps comparable to waving a magic wand?  There’s no need to soil your fingers by handling cash or the soles of your shoes strolling the mall.  Now, if only the purchased item would instantly materialize on the desk beside the computer.  For those of us who would sooner eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans than window shop, even perusing web photos for new shoes may be exhausting.  Mobile applications simply compound the demands on your time and attention.  After all, a store window is a store window even if it is the screen on your mobile phone.  Is there hope for even the virtual shopping adverse?

Personal shoppers may be one source of sustenance.  Their enthusiasm for style, browsing, and purchasing cannot be quenched or fulfilled by their own needs for clothing.  They have ample to spare for any number of the fashion unconscious and shopping phobic.  Their services, though, usually require meetings, telephone conversations, and loyalty to a major department or apparel store.  Virtual consumers may have to wait for the innovators of the near future.

What will they provide?  Automated and digital shopping services customized to fit your personal tastes and lifestyle.  Like the smart refrigerators that maintain a digital inventory of their contents, they will develop smart closets.  Digital tags will document the demise of clothing.  Even more, the closet will automatically shop and purchase items to replace items that are shabby or outmoded.  Your credit card or store account will be debited.  Each store’s staff will package and ship your purchases to you.

Human stylists and programmers will design interfaces that permit you to complete a profile of your tastes and your physique online.  You will be able to add a digital mannequin with more detail than currently offered by some online apparel retailers.  Those personal shoppers will have the store all to themselves as they shop for their absent clients.  Video conferences will still be available for customers who want to have final approval of their purchases.  Such conferences will be routinely available for special purchases such as evening and wedding gowns and interview suits. For those of us for whom shopping is recreational, museums and theme parks will be developed.  For the price of admission, visitors will be able to window shop on Main Street and purchase souvenirs that memorialize shopping malls and department stores.  Will you want a patent shopping bag adorned with the colors and vanished logos of Marshall Field’s or Circuit City?  For the truly nostalgic, only a replica of a paper cup with a food court restaurant logo will suit.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Bar codes: The beginning or the end?

Veiss1. Flickr. June 6, 2009.

Americans value their independence as much as their time.  Self-service check-out at grocery stores attempts to rival the efficiencies of fast food restaurants.  For those who dread the new or the chatty cashier, the parent shopping for a family of ten, or the customer with a pile of coupons, salvation has arrived.  Not only is check-out expedited, but the process is under the shopper’s control.  There’s no negotiating paper or plastic money or bags.  Any worries about missing items are mitigated by the stern, automated voice emanating from somewhere near the coin return.

Bar codes, of course, are key to the success of the customer/cashier.  Without them, shoppers couldn’t qualify for this role.  If only all packages, packaging, and bar code locations were similar.  The 40-pound bag of dog food, the colorful box of raisins, and the plastic bag of carrots each constitute unique challenges to the dignity and efficiency of the self-checker.  The annoyed sighs of waiting shoppers, the strident orders of the automated supervisor, and the absent beeps of the scanner require a focus on bar codes.

Now that there’s an “app” for mobile bank deposits, can an “app” for grocery check-out be far behind?  Imagine that invisible robotic cashier simply demanding payment upon your arrival at the self-check-out lane.  Perhaps, grocers will provide human baggers to further expedite check-out.  Certainly, jobs for human cashiers will be needed.  Already, their work has become more physical and technical due to bar codes.  There’s no more entering the numbers of prices into a cash register or calculating change.  Perhaps, their future is as technicians.  People will be needed to maintain and repair all those self-check-out computers.

How do you prefer to pay for your groceries?  Would you miss your friendly human cashier if grocery check-out became fully automated?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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