An E-Commerce Future, Ready or Not

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We have shopped online a ton during the pandemic, and some of those habits will stick. But I suspect our more e-commerce lives will have unintended consequences.

Buying online might become pricier or less convenient, we might need to rethink fast deliveries, and our neighborhoods may look different.

I sketched out some future possibilities to get us thinking about how our shopping budgets and habits could shift.

Mini warehouses might pop up everywhere: If more of us are ordering online, companies might opt to open more small package distribution hubs closer to where people live to provide faster deliveries. But that will mean more spots where delivery trucks move in and out, increasing traffic, noise and pollution.

Some changes might lead to higher prices for what we buy online, Ken Cassar, an e-commerce industry consultant, told me.

If coronavirus hot spots pop up occasionally, it’s possible isolated product shortages will continue. Or if e-commerce companies permanently decide to keep more products on hand, that could increase costs for the companies — and for us.

Fast delivery might cost more: Most online shopping companies hate the cost and headaches of fast shipping, and it’s not great for the environment either, said Sucharita Kodali, who studies the e-commerce industry for Forrester Research.

Rest assured we have been paying for that “free” delivery of the laundry detergent, even if the costs are hidden. Now, the cost could become more explicit.

Returns might be harder: For some items, like clothes, roughly one in five items bought online are returned. But now because of sanitation concerns, many stores are limiting the returns they’re accepting.

If safety fears continue, return policies may permanently become more strict. Stores that can’t resell as much of their returned merchandise, or that must sanitize it more thoroughly, will most likely pass their higher costs onto shoppers.

We’re all trying to figure out what the future of work, school, social interactions and family life will be. Maybe all of it, and our purchasing habits, will go back to normal. But I want us to consider that fast forwarding to an e-commerce future might require us to make adjustments we didn’t expect.

It’s not necessarily against Facebook’s rules to post lies or even hateful rhetoric. But it is against the company’s rules to do so with accounts that hide people’s identity and coordinate information among multiple accounts.

One topic that Sheera said she wished Facebook had addressed is the ripple effects of these accounts created under false pretenses. How long were the Facebook accounts in operation, and how many people did they direct to websites where people encountered even more fringe ideas?

Conspiracies might start on Facebook, but they don’t necessarily end there.

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