In the often-referenced sci-fi movie "Minority Report," Tom Cruise walks into a Gap, is instantly recognized and receives tailored purchase recommendations. But what if predictive technologies accurately anticipated his needs before he ever got to the store and delivered those items to his home?
A Wired article by Marcus Wohlsen explores how the rollout of same-day delivery by Google, eBay, Walmart, Amazon and others coupled with algorithms that support personal digital assistant apps, such as Google Now, could lead to such a utopian commerce scenario in the future.
Speaking to Wired, John Sheldon, global head of strategy, marketing solutions, eBay Enterprise, termed the concept "ambient commerce," describing its basics as "consumers turning over their trust to the machine."
He offered a few hypothetical examples, such as the Nike+ mobile app ordering a new pair of shoes after the runner has completed 300 miles. A sensor could determine when a bike helmet is damaged enough to require a replacement. In a more advanced scenario, a shirt with a sensor detects rain, prompting a courier to deliver an umbrella or rain jacket at the user's exact location.
"The ability to both sense a need and fulfill on that need in that compressed a time frame is very, very powerful," Mr. Sheldon told Wired.
In some ways, ambient commerce appears to rely heavily on automation. Such technologies are exemplified by the popular IFTTT (If This Then That) app, which automates small tasks between internet-connected services. IFTTT recently expanded into home automation with SmartThings, which, among other things, could set an air conditioner to turn on once a front door is opened.
But ambient commerce also relies on predictive technologies. That's exemplified by Google Play, which gathers information from a smartphone user's e-mail, calendar, location and social accounts to send alerts and recommendations before the user even knows that they needed them.
While Mr. Wohlsen pointed to the complexities of accurately depicting needs, not to mention conducting wide-scale same-day delivery, he still thinks the concept may have some merit.
"Between what these companies know about our interests, our friends, our whereabouts, our purchases, and anything else we're willing to feed them, whether by e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, GPS, or credit card, they probably should have a very good idea of what we want and when and where we want it," wrote Mr. Wohlsen in Wired.
How likely is the combination of predictive technologies and same-day delivery to drive retail sales in the future?