Tech pundits and futurists have predicted the demise of retail shopping for almost as long as they’ve promised us flying cars; with about as much success, too. After more than two years driving nearly from coast to coast, four wheels firmly on the ground as we rolled past ugly strip mall after ugly strip mall, I’m pretty certain neither of those predictions is anywhere close to fruition.
It’s true that since the heady days of Pets.com we’ve made grudging progress on the retail front. Amazon is now the 15th largest U.S. retailer with $26B in domestic sales. Buying things online today is as normal for many folks as shopping in traditional stores. But it feels as if our existing technology has mostly reached its saturation point. There are only so many things that we want delivered through the mail.
The internet may have revolutionized browsing and purchasing but it still mostly sucks at the whole getting part of shopping, which is pretty much the entire point. Existing technology can’t fix this problem. Moving forward will likely require another revolution; this time on the delivery side of the equation.
Amazon’s recent investments in same-day delivery offers one possible solution. Advances in three-dimensional printing are far more exciting, though. Instead of ordering things from a remote warehouse and having them shipped, we’ll buy digital blueprints and “print” final products at home. Jay Leno already uses the technology to print hard-to-find parts for his vintage car collection. In time everything from customized clothing to electronics will be available this way, almost immediately and at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, the mainstreaming of 3D printing is probably still decades away (for anyone not named Jay Leno, that is.)
Digital banking, meanwhile, has blazed ahead for the masses. Easily 95% of my economic life is already administered digitally. The ability to do so greatly facilitates our vagabonding lifestyle. I honestly don’t know how we’d travel the way we do without out it.
I have no idea, for example, how Steinbeck bought dog food for Charley several months into their 1960s road trip. I suspect he (Steinbeck, not Charley) set out initially with a giant wad of cash designed to last for the duration of their excursion. How would he cope, though, if his trip were longer? Say, two years and counting. How would he cash his royalty checks while perpetually away from his hometown bank?
That last issue has been a constant thorn in our own sides. Even today some of our clients find it convenient to pay us by check. We’re glad to receive them, but it isn’t always easy for us to find a nearby bank branch to make a deposit. This challenge would only get harder when we extend our travels internationally, where domestic bank brands are even in shorter supply. Fortunately, we no longer need them.
Thanks to new mobile banking apps we can now photograph the paper checks we get and deposit them digitally from wherever in the world we happen to be. No physical bank or ATM required. This, for us anyway, is the last piece of the puzzle. Never again will we search in vain for a bank only to discover the nearest location is 200 miles away. With this advance retail banking has become completely irrelevant to us, and not a moment too soon.
Now all we need are those damn flying cars.