Buying local has for a long time been an act of nostalgia. Only on main streets will you find local book stores still fervently defending the power of the printed word, antique shops allowing you to wander through luxuries of a previous age, and gift shops proudly selling hand crafted trinkets. Buying local in many ways presents itself as the antithesis of online shopping both in community economic impact and in experience. With online sales reaching over a trillion dollars however, perhaps it is time for technology and Main Street to join forces.
IBM’s annual “5 in 5” predictions report outlines five aspects of our lives that will change in the next five years, and gives us a very different perspective of the future of online and local. Instead of a battle of arch-nemeses duking it out for consumer spending, they see the two merging. With mobile technology the customization and variety one gets on Amazon, could be available at a store near you. In fact, IBM predicts in five years time local will beat online.
With the rise of the “Internet of Things,” a term used to describe new technology that embeds internet capable sensors into everyday objects, the power of the web is being used closer and closer to home. For instance, what if all you had to do was push a button on a refrigerator magnet to get your usual order of a large chicken tikka masala delivered straight to your door? Sounds pretty awesome right? It’s not as far fetched as it seems, a pizza company in Dubai has already come up with such a device. Everything in your home could get a virtual makeover in the future. Your closet could someday be able to scan every new item, offer you suggestions for outfits, and connect to local stores to suggest new additions that fit your style. Fridges could track expiration dates, come up with shopping lists based on what you don’t currently have for your favorite recipe, or suggest vegetables for sale at your local farmer’s market that would make delicious meals with what’s in your pantry.
Smart devices not only help us get what we want faster, but also collect valuable data. Data has proved to be a powerful tool for driving sales online and could be a force for change locally. Imagine a system that tracked what you bought at your favorite local shops. While buying a cute dress at a local boutique, a mobile app could recommend other stores in the area that might have dresses similar or suggest a place with matching shoes. An app could take in your measurements and suggest items in their stock that would fit you best. Shopkeepers could also have a keener view of their customers buying habits. In the future they might have an app that recommends new products to keep in stock based on their customer profile.
IBM’s prediction is based on the fact that local stores have something to offer. People do want a personal experience, they want to touch and try on before they buy, and they want the instant gratification of walking out of the store with something new. However technology has made it so much easier for us to get the things we want without going to four stores to try to find it. If IBM is right and you can combine the ease and customization that draws us to shopping online at our local book store, we may indeed see local businesses beat back Amazon.