It’s interesting how often the question of online versus traditional shopping comes up. A friend asked me this earlier today and I gave him the same answer I’ve been providing for a decade now.

These days the response seems reasonable, but back in 1998 it was heresy. It used to be guaranteed to make a room full of start-ups and venture capitalists go dead quiet. Of course back then we were in the middle of the dot-com boom, when somehow geeks who don’t like daylight managed to convince everyone that their concept of a good shopping experience was somehow universal.

So here it is:
Online shopping will replace traditional shopping sometime after there is technology available to have satisfying sex over the net.

Why is that? Because for the vast majority of consumers, shopping is a multi-sensory experience. It involves sight, sound, taste, feel, and smell. Just like sex.

One day the technology will exist to communicate this sort of experience over data networks. History tells us that it’s most likely that the early adopters of this technology will be interested in generating a satisfying “remote sexual experience”. [There’s one place where I’m happy let someone else deal with working the bugs out!]

Once the technology is affordable, bricks and mortar retail is in real trouble. The only advantage a store will have left is instant gratification. Store shoppers will be able to take a product home directly, while online shoppers will still have to wait for delivery. But the balance will have shifted, permanently.

Beyond retail, this kind of technology will have widespread and major impact. For example, business travel should plummet. In my experience one of the biggest drivers for business travel is the need for human contact. We don’t feel we really know who we’re working with until we sit down in the same room together. Any technology that can handle sex and shopping should breeze through handshakes and conversation.

I have no idea what the current state of Internet based sensory transmission technology is, but it’s clearly important. One of the recurring themes of my thinking is that communications technology can be doing a lot more to reduce the impact that we have on the environment. One of our biggest problems is our need to move people over long distances to accomplish conceptually simple tasks like shopping and working together. Technologies like this could see many people working and shopping from home, or travelling much shorter distances to local “virtual reality pods” to do the same.