Future proofing your brand in the age of the Sci-Fi shopper

When Sci-Fi blockbuster Minority Report’s tech-enriched vision of commerce in the year 2054 hit cinemas seventeen years ago, it was mesmerisingly futuristic.

There is a famous scene in which Tom Cruise’s John Anderton character enters Gap and is greeted by the friendly voice of a digitised female avatar with detailed knowledge of his shopping history. Later, Anderton walks through the screen-lined lobby of a shopping mall and is hit with highly personalised digital adverts from the shops he passes.  It’s easy to imagine the purchase experience in any of these stores is equally frictionless. 

In 2002, even the idea of same-day delivery felt like something from science fiction — never mind voice assistants and facial recognition — but all these experiences are now a commerce reality. We have evolved into the Sci-Fi shopper.

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Today, brands are investing $210B per year to create their own tech-savvy retail experiences to entice the modern Sci-Fi shopper. But according to the latest research from our team at Elastic Path, gathered from over 1,000 consumers and 300 B2C brand marketing professionals, most brands are failing. What many people have experienced so far has been as underwhelming as the Game of Thrones finale. 

Our research, “The Sci-Fi Shopper: How to Future Proof Your Brand for the New Consumer,” reveals a deep disconnect between what modern consumers want and what brands deliver.

One of the most powerful findings is how deluded many brands are about their experiences hitting the mark. In our research, most thought they’re doing pretty well in delivering “futuristic” shopping experiences (with the average ranking seven out of 10). The reality is that consumers really don’t feel the same and ranked brands’ experiences just a four out of 10. 

Brands also universally underestimate the issues their customers experience most and their most common retail pain points: 

Customer pain point   Percent of shoppers who experience this issue  Percent of brands that believe this issue is a pain point
Long checkout lines 57% 35%
Lack of inventory 55% 32%
Customer service wait times  42% 36%
Uninformed staff 38%  20%

In all the creative excitement, it seems the underlying customer needs to save time and money are being forgotten. The technology shoppers value the most is the kind that enables fast, simple, frictionless shopping. Long-term convenience will always triumph over the short-term novelty of gimmicks — and the modern Sci-Fi shopper doesn’t have time to be inconvenienced. 

That said, “buzzy” new technologies like AR, AI chatbots, voice commerce, VR can still be worthwhile investments for retailers who use those technologies to solve real problems. Elastic Path’s research also shines a spotlight on the features customers use — or want to use — and what brands actually offer: 


Feature  Percent of customers who want to use it  Brands that offer it 
Checkout-less payments  67% 18%
Voice commerce  57% 23%
Smart devices 58% 25%
Facial recognition 55% 20%

The data proves that there’s real potential for brands if they get the ‘futuristic’ experience right. 

For example, while the majority of customers (81%) haven’t yet tried using voice technology to make purchases, those who have are hooked. Of the consumers who have used voice technology to make purchases, 22% use it multiple times a week, and 21% use it at least weekly. 

Shoppers clearly have a healthy appetite for new technology when it truly adds value to their busy lives. 

Learning from Amazon

One retailer that knows what’s important to the Sci-Fi shopper is Amazon. With same-day delivery, Amazon Go locations, pick up in Next stores, and Amazon Alexa, the company is rapidly shaping consumer expectations for what qualifies as a positive customer experience.

Another innovative pioneer in this space is Carnival Corporation and its OceanMedallion technology. Through one small wearable token, Carnival is successfully converging the physical and digital worlds into one always-available, frictionless shopping experience for holidaymakers.  

Frictionless commerce, every time

When it comes to new technology, brands are like magpies and continue to chase shiny objects. In contrast, consumers just want to buy the products they need with as little effort as possible. 

To win the loyalty of the modern Sci-Fi shopper, companies need a robust commerce backend that supports the latest innovations without sacrificing customer experience. Brands must make any experience shoppable, because with the right tech, they can enable consumers to purchase almost without thinking, anytime and anywhere. This is the new domain where the big commerce wins of the future will be made

Jason Smith, Regional VP Sales – EMEA at Elastic Path

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