[Liveblog] Scott Smith: when your data ghost shops for you

The future of retail is invisible. Stores are fading away, and our purchases are becoming involuntary - and predictive.

Scott Smith, Changeist

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the first 48 hours after publication.

Over the last year, Scott has started disappearing from the US. He’s been moving to Europe, and so he’s been appearing less and less in the databases of the retailers he uses regularly, because he’s using them less.

His bank, in particular, is very confused, and continually cuts off his card when he’s travelling overseas. He’s left behind a ghost – let’s call hime Steve Smith – in the US, made up of aging data, dormant credit cards and online accounts.

At the same time stores are changing. Argos in the UK hasn’t been traditional shop in decades. Apple has redefined retail to the point where everyone is imitating them – and making their own environment feel tired. Both of them reject the idea of goods on shelves, in favour of a different retail environment. The shop as we knew it is disappearing.

Maple is a restaurant with no place. It’s just a kitchen, where you order the food and have it delivered – but it’s still restaurant food, not take-away in the traditional sense.

The Apple Stores are becoming almost cathedrals. It’s a physical representation of an invisible idea. It’s a ghostly idea of commerce.

The predictive retailer

A store is no longer a store. A store is a data set, a predictive model of you that predicts something you like. Your supermarket probably knows what you did last summer – through what you bought. You do that a few times, then they have a pattern they can use to target you with. A good servant can anticipate what you want before you ask. That’s what shops are becoming.

That Amazon Dash button is a button that triggers a global supply chain. Somewhere, there’s a warehouse full of nappies, just waiting for your baby to poop.

Beyond that, the Amazon Echo is a voice that can respond to you, but it can facilitate shopping, too. And it can be put into other devices. You have this digital person following you around the house, helping the kids with their homework – and selling you things.

Ditto Labs can scan photos and identify brands and products – and your facial expression. You’re Instagram stream is becoming fodder for understanding your shopping intentions.

There are dozens of companies looking at techniques for analysing your expression and conversations when you watch TV – and deduce your buying intention from that. This is coming, as are prediction APIs which sell predictions of your buying behaviours in bulk.

Involuntary shopping activity

Are people comfortable with this? Do you like the idea of being monitored in your home, to ease your shopping?

41% of people in the US would voluntarily enrol in a scheme which decides which books you read, and bills you automatically. 31% would buy a smart home which spots your goods running out and replacing them without consent. That jumps to 70% amongst student.

Apple is hiring machine learning people experts, so it can create devices which are better at learning about you. Facebook is clear that it is capturing your intent via your chat messages. By monitoring those chats, and then facilitating that transaction, they can make money. The younger you get, the more you expect one day delivery. That’s going to push towards a 30 minutes delivery via drones.

But there will be both manned and autonomous delivery vehicles – boats, bikes – people, even, using their spare time profitably. And Amazon is moving towards predictive delivery – pushing goods to local collection points before you order them.

Scott has to build a whole new data ghost in Europe, but, Steve, his US ghost will still linger, a representation of his desires, made virtual. And we’re all developing these ghosts.