The Frightening Future of Augmented ShoppingS

Online retail is nothing new, but now brick and mortar stores want to get in on the high-tech action. The New York Times has a disquieting look at new technologies that will make you shop 'til your signal drops.

Take, for example, Norma Kamali's boutique in Manhattan, which recently implemented a system called ScanLife that allows shoppers to find more information on products from their smart phones. So far, so good. But ScanLife also lets shoppers buy those products from their phones, even when seen in passing in a display window, even when the store is closed. Impulse buying just got a whole lot more impulsive.

Sure, ScanLife will certainly make physical shopping more convenient, but you have to wonder if it's going to make shopping too convenient.

Whereas ScanLife could make it dangerously easy for you to spend your money, another system called Presence, developed by IBM, could make it downright annoying to do so. Presence tracks you as you walk through the store and reminds you of things you might have forgotten you wanted to buy. By way of example, the Times article describes a trip to the supermarket in which Presence beams coupons to your phone in real time as you walk through the aisles and suggests items that would go well with the one you just put in your cart.

Of course, shoppers will have the option of using these new systems; no one is going to force you to augment your shopping. But at the same time, the internet age has a way of sweeping people up into using new technologies, even when the headaches equal the benefits. Presence could let you pinpoint an item's location in an unfamiliar grocery store, but would this capability be worth it if it came at the price of shopping with an overbearing digital assistant?

The article mentions Crate & Barrel and Walmart specifically as companies who are interested in these types of systems, but you can be sure that all major retailers are considering software that let you use your gadgets to spend more money on their products. Still, I imagine that many people will be content keep on window shopping the old-school way, without their phones and without their credit cards. [New York Times]