I predict a riot

iStock_000019842250SmallIf you find predictive text annoying because it means your mobile phone presumes to know what you want to say before you haven’t finished spelling out the words, you won’t like my next announcement! Predictive shopping is on its way. That’s right – the mail order giant, Amazon, has just bought a patent that allows it to send us goods which it has worked out we want before we have even decided to buy them. According to Kwame Opam, a reporter for the ultra-readable American online newspaper theverge.com, Amazon plans to corner the market in “anticipatory shopping”. It hopes to use the information gleaned from people virtually window-shopping (ie the amount of time our computer mouse hovers over a certain item online) to send us things it has worked out we want before we have.

Think that’s a little far fetched? Think again. Just before Christmas I had an eBay frenzy looking for a new work dress, a cardigan and tights to go with it. Now every time I log in to eBay – and the pages I click through afterwards – are full of adverts with tempting pictures of wrap dresses from Boden, M&S and Coast, pictures of 8 denier tights and fluffy cropped cardies. I want them all. And if Amazon has its way, that clever trawling of my mind’s eye will be taken one step further very soon. Instead of just being sent to my computer, the actual dresses will be taken off the shelves, parcelled up by human robots and sent by drones to my doorstep. Shops will gamble, quite accurately I’m sure, that a combination of idleness, greed and sheer procrastination will ensure that 90% of them are never returned. Ker-ching!

I blame that canny Mr Selfridge – if the second series of the Sunday night ITV drama is to be believed, he was the master of predictive shopping way back in Edwardian London. The first episode showed him pioneering the “spritzer” girls who tempt us with a puff of fabulous scent as we walk into a department store, and the introduction of a classy chick lit book reading where the entrepreneur, author and girl around the world Delphine Day dazzled sensible London women of all ages with her sex ‘n’ shopping bonkbuster liberally sprinkled with references to champagne, bubble baths and gorgeous silk lingerie – all available on their way out of Mr Selfridge’s shopping emporium….

But, to borrow a term from the virtual world, Amazon is putting covetous consumerism on to a whole new level by cutting out the covetousness. Why waste all that time window-shopping, looking around and saving up, and then finally choosing which dress you want to wear to your sister’s wedding, when the shops can do it all for you without you even lifting a finger, never mind reaching for your handbag and actually leaving the house? Time is money after all. Successful businesses down the ages have always prided themselves on their ability to cut out the middleman – now they have taken it to its illogical conclusion by cutting out the ultimate middleman – us – the customer. If we’re not careful, very soon the shops will be able to bypass us completely.

But the scariest thing of all is that we will probably LOVE “anticipatory shopping”. Before too long we will wonder how we ever lived without it. Think of all the other consumer innovations that we all huffed and puffed about and now would stamp our feet if the clock were turned back – Sunday trading, out of town supermarkets, 24-hour shopping, online shopping (even predictive texting). You know the other day I almost missed the bus, which my phone had reminded me was only two minutes away, because I had to spell out every letter of the word “procrastination” in an apology text to my college mentor. Idiot phone, you’d think it would know me by now!

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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