12 - A Glimpse Ahead

It's generally accepted that the rate of change is rapid and shows no sign of slowing. In particular, the digital world will continue to expand, and will shape the environment, our choices, and the way we make decisions.

Interview with J. Walker Smith

The author interviews a chairman of a research firm that focuses on projecting how trends in the consumer market will influence the more distant future.

Interview with Chris Keating

To get a broader perspective on consumer behavior as an economic phenomenon, the author also interviewed a consultant who considers economic trends.

Thoughts for the Future of the Shopper Economy

The author considers the way in which artificial intelligence can infiltrate consumer behavior: it's fairly simple to automatically pay regular bills and automatically place orders to restock items, but intelligent shopping agents may take on more or a role in identifying, then recommending, then having full authority to control the purchases of their owners.

This is already seen in the deference people give to technology - using a Web site to identify the highest-rated product and the lowest-prices retailer, then accepting the selections made by technology without applying any independent judgment.

(EN: This is accurate of behavior, but a bit imprecise in the suggestion that "technology" does this all on its own. It's more accurate to suggest that people defer to the expertise of those who wrote the algorithms and programs that govern the way the algorithm rates and ranks products. It's not new, as many people simply go with whatever the editorial staff of Consumer Reports happens to suggest, rather than making an independent assessment with an eye toward their own needs. However, it is a bit worse because the people who write the algorithms are not particularly bright or well-informed about the products their software evaluates, and there has already been some blast-back against the notion of "crowdsourcing" as applying the average opinions of an unintelligent mob. Ultimately, it is mitigated by the willingness of individuals to abdicate the choice - scary how many will do so, but heartening to know that it is a voluntary choice.)

On the other side of the fence, brands and businesses are relying on AU tools to optimize their participation in the marketplace. There are already in place decision-support tools and decision-making tools that decide which products or promotions to offer a customer based on statistical algorithms that attempt to identify a shopper's interests and respond accordingly with customized communications - though these are generally evaluating "rules" that are set by the advertiser.

(EN: Maybe this is a bit silly, but I do see the potential for a very absurd situation in which the firm's marketing tech are communicating to customer's buying tech and the human element becomes entirely removed from the equation - which would mean that the human will become the anomaly in the systems, and some very bizarre things could result.)

The author suggests that, while these intermediaries seem like further separation of brand and consumer, "I believe that they will lead to a much greater degree of intimacy" in their ability to refine the approach - our methods today are clumsy and uninformed, and the level of information we can leverage in future will enable us to be more precise and specific.