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Five shopping staples set to go out of stock, thanks to digital commerce

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As Shop Direct phases out the paper catalogue, we consider which other one-time staples of shopping commerce could soon be part of history as digital takes over.

The paper catalogue

Shop Direct says that in recent years demand for its paper catalogue has fallen sharply as customers opt to “click rather than flick,” in the words of its chief executive Alex Baldock. Five years ago, it sent customers 5m copies of the catalogue. Last year it sent out 300,000 – and now it’s ending the practice altogether.

Instead, a million visitors a day visit its website, and 90% of trade takes place online, half of that through mobile devices.

Small pencils

It’s hard to see a place for small pencils in the future of shopping, and even more so once the catalogue has gone. Once the staple of stores of stores from Ikea to Argos , where products are stored and collected from stockrooms rather than the shelves, now that more browsing and ordering orders are taking place in the shop through tablets and kiosks, such as in Argos’ new format digital stores (pictured), it seems likely the production of small pencils may well stop – or be redirected to restaurants and cafés to be distributed to child guests, along with colouring sheets. For the moment, however, they’re still very much in use in Ikea.

The checkout queue

Mobile scanners are already in use in supermarkets across the UK, and as shoppers move on to using their smartphones, as already trialled in branches of Waitrose, to browse and pay from an app-based shopping list, now, at last, the checkout queue should become, if not immediately a thing of the past, at least one that’s more manageable than at present.

Junk mail

Email has replaced many postal missives that we used to receive from our favourite, and less favourite, retailers. But plenty of retail-based leaflets still make it through our doors. We give junk mail five years until this too is a thing of the past.

Poor service

Hands up anyone who hasn’t experienced poor customer service in a store, whether that’s reluctance to search for stock beyond the shop, to help with an online order or simply to give relevant help. Anyone? Thought not. Yet when retail businesses do go that extra mile they make it easy for customers to spend more. Technology providers promise that customer service will improve as assistants are enabled, through innovations such as personalisation and beacons, to give better and more relevant attention to the people in front of them. We’ll know that future has really arrived when shoppers get service that’s as good even when they spend a small amount as when they are recognised high-value shoppers.

What do you think? What changes do you think digital shopping will make to the way we used to shop, and what old technology are you calling time on? Tell us in the comments below.

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