Friday, July 27, 2007

Electronic Shopping (1983)

Terry R. Hiller wrote an article titled "Going Shopping in the 1990s" for the December, 1983 issue of The Futurist magazine. Mr. Hiller was understandably skeptical of the prospect of electronic shopping. However, many of the things he asserted would not come to pass did indeed happen.

An excerpt appears below, along with graphics from the piece.

Nor is electronic retailing equipped to deal with the logistics of delivery. Product information, selection, and billing can all be transmitted electronically, but physical merchandise must be physically moved. Today's mail-order houses depend on federal or private package delivery, services that are simply not structured for the huge traffic increases that large-scale teleshopping would generate. It would require not only the total restructuring of existing routes and systems, but an investment of billions of dollars in equipment and personnel - resources we are simply unable to spare either now or in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, since teleshoppers can only view products piecemeal, electronic marketing has severe drawbacks as a retailing device. In nine square feet of drugstore shelf space, you might easily encounter as many as 80 or more different brands and sizes of cold remedies. But in electronic marketing, shelf space is defined as time- the number of second an item appears on the screen. Allowing even 10 seconds per item, it would take more than 13 minutes to show that same 80 items. Add to this the cost of production, handling, and shipping, and we begin to suspect that the "convenience" of electronic marketing will be very expensive. Unless we are prepared to sacrifice variety - and therefore competition - some products will never be purchased "in absentia."

See also:
Online Shopping (1967)
Mobile Malls (1981)


Rangachari Anand said...

This is a great find. The great thing about the articles you post is that it makes clear the range of error in futurism on both the under and over side.

Anonymous said...
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Clare said...

Back in the days when the internet was in black and white and consisted of email, newsgroups and FTP, my dad told me about this thing call the world wide web. 'It's the internet, but with pictures!'

I thought about the 20 minutes it took us to download a satellite pic of London, and thought 'It'll never catch on.'

Anonymous said...

Funny... As early as 1984, electronic shopping was already a reality in France, with a minitel. You could order a full "caddy" of goods from your black and white screen, on a loosy keyboard to Carrefour (which is one of the largest retailers in France) and your goods were delivered the next day. The goods were either paid with a card number or in cash when delivered... The images were awful, as the minitel only used graphical characters to display pictures, but still you could have access to an incredible list of services, such as banking, chatting, and travel bookings.