What’s for dinner HAL?

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ORDER CAREFULLY: ‘bargain deckchairs’ bought online, oops Photo: Shutterstock

Terence Kennedy considers how we’ll shop in years to come

FOR my long-suffering partner it can’t come too soon: the day I ask our kitchen console what’s for dinner rather than her.

It’s getting close. Fancy fridges can already warn that we’re low on carrots and order more. Next will be one of those sci-fi space-station scenarios where the computer dishes up the evening’s tasty Soylent Green.

The burden of shopping is shifting from humans to machines.But among the melee of Christmas shopping this year it’s sobering to consider just how many traditional retailers are going or gone under the online onslaught, from Poundland and Sears to Toys R Us, Zara in Spain and most recently the UK’s Debenhams.

Part of the problem is ‘showrooming’, a recent word for how we use a bricks-and-mortar store to examine the goods, then go home to order them online more cheaply. My conscience is not clear.

As this publication pointed out a while back, Amazon is now far and away Spain’s biggest retailer, an astonishing achievement after just seven years. In 2017 it sold €4.2 billion-worth of stuff, far ahead of its trailing rivals AIiExpress and the more traditional El Corte Ingles.

Eight out of ten of us now shop online, a fourfold increase since the turn of the century, with sales growing more than 15 per cent a year.

We’re in a brave new world of e-commerce with ever-more connected devices. By 2025 says one pundit, ‘wrist commerce’ will be all the rage: talking to our smartwatches to order stuff as the whim or need takes us.

Not sure when considering a new car if 19 cup-holders are sufficient? (That’s how many there are in the 2019 Subaru Ascent. Seriously?) No need to head to the dealer, just put on your Virtual Reality headset and take a tour.

No more schlepping stuff home from the shop. Just wait for the drone to drop and deliver then hope the neighbour doesn’t nick it. Again.

No more running out of cheese; your fridge tells the warehouse, whose driver (or robot) stocks up your supply. Perhaps even loading it into the fridge before you get home, if a new proposal to give retailers special access to our homes takes off.

In fact no need even for your fridge to run regular stocktaking: every time you take a bottle of water the retailer replenishes it.

The best we can hope is that technology can cope. Witness the parents who ordered a birthday cake for their daughter online, ‘with a little blond figure on the top’. Auto-correct changed it to ‘blind’.

Cutting edge

YOUR connected razor knows when its blades have gone rusty. Your smartwatch, with heart rate, platelet level and location data, knows you’ve cut yourself shaving.

Your wrist vibrates. You look at your smartwatch. Your Smart Assistant says ‘Swipe left to order bandages. Swipe right to ignore.’ You swipe left. It thanks you. Your bandages arrive within the hour, with a new razor.

Not in our lifetimes? A decade ago talking to a gadget in your lounge to play music, order pizza or playthings or dim the lights was fruitcake-talk. Buy an Amazon Echo, a Google Home or an Apple HomePod and it’s reality for millions today.

The saddest aspect of it all: the day we accept that our Smart Assistants are way smarter than we are.

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