In the Future, Everything Will Be a Coffee Shop: A Q&A with Stephen Gordon, Part 1

April 24, 2012

You’ve got to attack showrooming. Decide on smaller stores or not. Unify sales strategies to cover omni-channel marketing. It’s never been more critical for a retailer to have the right analytics to drive the game-changing decisions you’re facing. It’s serious stuff that we’re guiding clients through daily. Because even if you’re not a big-box store or an electronics giant, it’s not business as usual.

In the midst of all the chaos, we talked with Stephen T. Gordon, who thinks coffee shops will replace many retail stores, universities and offices. The Shreveport attorney and prescient commentator predicts some bold scenarios about how online commerce will soon trump many traditional retail locations in his controversial piece”In the Future, Everything Will Be a Coffee Shop” in The Speculist and reprinted in The Boston Globe.

Here, Gordon pours it on further:

Buxton: Why coffee shops? Why not frozen yogurt shops?

Gordon: No reason at all that it couldn’t be yogurt shops. “Coffee shop” was my shorthand for public space. Any business where you can sit at a table, be on the Internet and not be hassled to give up your table in 30 minutes would qualify. I think many more businesses, selling all kinds of things — haircuts, car maintenance, yogurt — will adopt this model.

Buxton: When I was a kid, the future had us in flying cars and jet packs. Since that hasn’t happened, how do we know there will be such a drastic change in retailing anytime soon?

Gordon: William Gibson is reported to have said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” All the playing pieces for the coffee shop future are here. Online shopping is here. E-books are here. Print on demand is here. 3D printing is here. Some of these things are more mature (e-books) than others (3D printing), but they all exist. Just a little more distribution and we’re there. Jet packs — not so much.

The key for retailers to keep in mind when planning for the future is this: What can’t people download? Now is probably not the time to open a CD store. It’s certainly not the time to open a DVD rental store. Even those DVD kiosks will be old news soon. Large bookstores — I hate to say this because I love those places — gone in a few years.

You can’t download food or drink. And you can’t download a second place to meet people for business outside your home. You need a place like a coffee shop for that. You also can’t download certain experiences — going to nightclubs, boutique shops, amusement parks, and places of worship — that stuff sticks around.

Stick around for Part 2 tomorrow.