When I first read John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends, the chapter that stood out the most from others, to me anyway, was called “From Forced Technology to High Tech/High Touch”. Even in today’s world with all of our technology, achieving that “high touch” component is something that is a continuing struggle. There is a very interesting quote from that chapter that predicts the future of eCommerce:
“We will eventually do some shopping by computer, but only for staple items of which we have a very clear sense and experience. It will be no substitute for the serendipity and high touch of shopping for what we want to be surprised about.” (Naisbitt, Megatrends, page 46).
At first read you might think Naisbitt missed the mark with this prediction, but I don’t think so. We do tend to buy things online that are familiar to us. A recent CalTech study released in American Economic Review brought out concrete facts on the extent to which our buying behavior is driven by sensory input. Titled, “Pavlovian Processes in Consumer Choice: The Physical Presence of a Good Increases Willingness-to-pay”, the research points out that a person’s willingness to pay for a particular item is up to 61% higher when shown the real item as opposed to descriptive text or images of the item. Sounds like this study backs up Naisbitt pretty well.
Enter the Hologram. Or, more correctly, the holographic display. Still in its infancy, new technology that could enable affordable holographic displays might allow for a “nearly high-touch” experience that could eventually break down the resistance to buying when an actual product isn’t at hand. This small step toward having the item available in 3D could be a real game changer for online retailers that specialize in items with which the buying public has limited familiarity. Imagine being able to take a three-dimensional look at a piece of audio equipment, turning it at will to examine each side and all the available inputs and outputs. Imagine the potential of being able to look at a chair in different colors and project the full size image from a holographic display. Similar technology has been used on news networks to project holograms of people being interviewed as though they are in the room (like the inset picture above of CNN’s holographic interviews during the 2008 election). Getting this type of technology to a state where it is affordable to consumers is likely several years away, but I can already see great uses for this in the world of eCommerce!