No, the title is not supposed to be a version of 36-24-36. Neither mine nor yours! Rein in that brain, rest it and just read. These are years – 30 years before 2013 was 1983. 17 years from today will be 2030. Too many numbers to begin with? Shopping sounds better. So, let’s proceed.
Notable piece of news? The Cricket World Cup trophy came home. Even bigger news? The author of this post was born. Yes, my doctor deliverer held me up even as Kapil Dev held up The Cup, this very same year. Now, if I was born in 1983, would I know what shopping in 1983 was all about? I am sure if I thought hard enough, I would remember where my frilly frocks came from. But, I decided to ask around. Parents, their parents, maternal aunt, paternal uncle, the 1000 or so cousins born before me, even asked the kid brother who was yet to come, really. That hard I worked to know how, just how, were people shopping back in 1983? With land-lines more ‘dead’ than alive, mobile something that Batman travelled in and online banking an impossible idea from future colonies on Mars, people were simply going to the market with their lists and picking things up. Maybe stopping over at the bank and withdrawing some money, in case the monthly budget kept in the envelope under the flower vase had run out already. Market meant a Paltan Bazaar. Shop meant a generational general merchant (& Bros. & Sons variety) where all branches of the family had been buying the time-tested brands from. Clothes were handed down, or bought in whole-sale from good bargain shops. Luxury was NRI relatives (God bless those ones from then) getting you a Sony TV, wooden body and wooden screen cover complete. Needs were few, choices of brands even fewer and the will to experiment with the fancy looking-foreign sounding “imported” bottles in exclusive shops (British ancestry, please) reserved for the elite. That was shopping where I was born, in 1983.
Three decades down, and we enter the Now. The breaking news is breaking through your TVs, so that I need not tell you about. Plus, I wasn’t re-born. But shopping? Seems like that has been re-born in an entirely different avatar! The groceries either come home through our telephones or are picked up in super-market. In 10 feet of retail space you see 10 brands of tooth pastes and 100 different brands of women-attracting deodorants (though none for keeping them). Clothes with Italian tags, bed sheets named after Greek Goddesses and even dedicated sections for keeping children and pets occupied even as you pick and choose from shelves that reach the sky. The lift will zoom you till the car and then goodbye cart, and mall and supermarket – our monthly groceries as well as a few indulgences have been bought, and hefty parking charges for our wheels paid. Good deals on electronics, books, cameras, phones can also be picked up from Karts christened after the products. No shipping charges, payment on delivery sometimes, cash back guarantee if the customer is not satisfied, secure banking transactions and there you have it – Sir Shopping in shining armour, sitting beneath that button and always at your service with just a click. And the latest from the online shopping grapevine? eBay’s ebay.in CHECK - a one-stop, auto drop down wonder, gift-wrapped for us as a tiny button, downloaded on our tool bar within seconds and always at our beck-and-call. Press it and see the best deals on the site for anything you desire. Ah! Fingers can continue to be lazy, wallets smile happy and more time on our hands to philosophize on the pot, or elsewhere. Oh! As for that NRI luxury and Sony TVs from 1983? Well, last I checked my cousin Sachin a.k.a Steve from the US of A was busy buying Rakhi gifts from this very .in site. Genius invention for our generation! Even Einstein must be wondering – Jeez, why didn’t I think of it?
Fast forward, not 30 years but a little over half of that – 17 years. Bad mathematics? Well, partly. But mostly because if yesterday technology was leaping forward at the speed of sound through air, today it is moving with the speed of light itself. So 3 decades of the past are equal to half that time of the future – techie-wise. And it will only take lesser time for bigger leaps, as my 30 years turn into 60. S.i.x.t.y.? Wow, time to change the topic and get back to shopping 17 years from now.
Even though my mane looks like Einstein’s in humidity, I am not him most certainly. But I do shop online, a lot, and am experienced with the good, the bad and the ugly bits of ordering your objects of desire through .coms and the more patriotic .ins. After burning the midnight yellow CFL in my lamp as well as a handful of grey cells, I came up with the following 5 ideas that can change the orbit of online shopping into a wider-smoother-faster ellipse in 2030.
Idea 1 – Auto-Replenish
Dear post-it on the fridge, you just lost your job. No more grocery listing. No more keeping a tab on beer in the chiller or oil in the pantry. Auto-replenish technology will send a signal to the online shopping portal whenever the stock is dwindling and poof! It will be delivered to you even before you spot it was over. Radar racks and censors in the fridge will do that listing for you, send the re-order list to the portal and get your needs delivered at your door step in good time. Radical? I think so too! You can now save your post-its for love-ly messages instead which say – ‘Out for dinner with friends, honey. Cook yours, will you!’ Of course, all inside a little red heart!
Idea 2 – 3-D Prototypes
By 2030, 3-D printers will take over homes – be it for helping with the kids’ school projects or sending a sample of your wedding card to the generous Sony TV NRI family from once-upon-a-time. Why not use them for shopping too? Free ordering/printing of prototypes of products might help us with choosing options. Will the size of the phone look good in my hands? Are those ear rings too big for my face? Will an iPod armband for cycling feel comfortable? Will save us so much hit-and-try buys of wrong shapes and sizes and thickness and depths. Don’t you think?
Idea 3 - Expert Advice
Let’s face it. Online shopping portals offer everything – variety, exchange offers, best prices and bonanza deals. What they do not offer? Expert advice, like the one available in the form of a goodly young man who follows you in a departmental/electronic store in a tie and guides you about the various specifications of the products you are looking at. Most importantly, he gives you a much-needed inter-brand comparison. No, I do not mean product reviews which are available aplenty on forums across www. I mean a person who could tell me, for instance, which rim tape is best for my bicycle, or which lens should be my next buy - right then and there. For all the times I haven’t really been sure of what I want or need, even if it were an animated avatar doing the expert talking I would not mind. Would you? Make him good-looking, feed in the information, the know-how and the comparisons and dear Factoid, I will be ready to fall in love with you.
Idea 4 - Delivered, urgently
My pizza comes home in 30 minutes. Why can’t the handbag I want to gift my sister coming for dinner in an hour? Or ColicAid my baby’s tummy needs for gassy fuss at 2am? Or maybe just a tissue paper roll even as the pressure on the pot is on its way? Big things or small, fancy or mundane, a little networking with small shops around and there we have it (Yes, small shops will always be around!). Delivery within minutes! EBay does this already, as my experience of ordering on it tells me. But we can make it faster, by many hours! And then, does not the idea of including the stores in the online ordering system beam better than all of government’s Inclusion Policies put together? That provokes a thought!
Idea 5 – Artificial Intelligence, at my service
Getting personal is not always a bad thing, especially if we are talking about personalized shopping services. What if a site more intelligent than me can keep track of my past purchases, memorize my interests, remember the products I dig and prompt suggestions every time I need them? Say, in the type of books I buy or the kind of gadgets that suit my interest? And equally important, not overwhelm me with information on products I really don’t care about. I mean, why flash pictures of designer ties to a hippie? We do know sometimes technology can be better than us. After all, smart phones are, aren’t they? So why not the AI on my favourite shopping portal. I can just let my head be in peace. It’s 2030 people, who wants to use their own brains?
For now, I have used mine. All 30 years of it, and even beyond. While I wait for much-deserved patents for all 1-5 above, I will go look for a new pair of glasses. A press of a button away and poof! I already found what I was looking for. Look at that! If that’s not fast, funky and futuristic what is?