What wouldn’t you buy from your phone? Not much, says Tim Green whose discovery of an Elvis cushion in a junk shop led him to consider the future of shopping.

Last weekend was Mother’s Day in the UK. To mark this occasion my lovely wife and I took a bracing canal-side walk to Columbia Road Flower Market in East London.

I was on a mission not to buy her any flowers.

This is because of my Mother’s Day rule. Only one Mrs Green gets anything from me, and that’s my mum. My wife is not my mother. Ergo, she can buy her own bloomin’ flowers*.

    When e-commerce began, we all imagined we’d buy homogenous items like books, CDs, food and electronics online. But the wacky personal stuff we found in junk shops – Elvis cushions – would stay ‘physical’. It simply isn’t true any more.

I’m not about to remind my kids of their responsibilities either. They can remember how great their mum is on their own time.

And if they don’t produce anything floral on the Sunday, it’s either because they’re useless or she is not fit to be their mother.

Either way, nothing to do with me.

Anyway, what has any of this to do with mobile?

Well, strolling among the flower sellers got me thinking about retail. In case you don’t know, Columbia Road is a rather wonderful street market that has been trading since 1869.

It comprises dozens of very old-fashioned street vendors. You know the type: overweight, shaven haired and typically shouting something like: ‘Get yer tulips, tenner for two bunches, clear em out, I wanna go home.”

Around the edges of the market are lots of shops best described as quaint. Though you could also use ‘overpriced’ and ‘la-di-da’.

Lots of trinkets.

We mooched around one, and there I spotted it – an Elvis cushion. I’m no fan myself. But I know plenty who are. And this pillow was just the kind of thing that would make a perfect present: trashy, personal, unusual and not too expensive. But you know what I did, don’t you? Inside five seconds I had opened my Amazon app and found this.

£4.37 to have the King underneath my backside within 24 hours. Actually, I was robbed.

Augmented-Reality-ShoppingI could have had gone to eBay and saved myself £2.18.

The point being that when e-commerce began, we all imagined we’d buy homogenous items like books, CDs, food and electronics online. But the wacky personal stuff we found in junk shops – Elvis cushions – would stay ‘physical’.

It simply isn’t true any more.

In fact, wandering around Columbia Road Flower Market made me realise that there was scarcely anything I wouldn’t – and couldn’t – buy from a mobile app.

I wouldn’t want to order a burger from Amazon and wait for it to be delivered the next day. And though online flower delivery is a thing now, there’s something lovely about being physically handed an exquisite bouquet you didn’t buy for your wife because she’s not your mother.

But other than that, what? We talked about this on the way home (though I could see her eyes glazing). It made me more convinced than ever that the end of retail as we know it is coming.

I can imagine shopping trips where we look at stuff, try things on but never actually take anything home with us. Instead, we just scan to order and it’s all there when we get back to the house.

With Amazon selling everything, and Uber eyeing the delivery space, this could come sooner than you imagine.

tim-greenTim Green

Features Editor

MEF Minute

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But think that through, and you wonder: what products do we need to try in a shop that we can’t try at home?

Not much.

So maybe we’ll only buy services when we go out. Hairdressing. Yoga. Tattoos. Jungian psychoanalysis.

You can’t get that on Prime.

* OK, I caved. But the flowers I bought were nothing to do with Mother’s Day. It was pure coincidence.

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