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The De-Skeuomorphication of Commerce

PLUS: Chipotle Fuels the Attention Economy
May 26, 2023

Welcome to Friday, futurists.

If you’re a paying user of ChatGPT, you received access to Plugins and Web Browsing earlier this month.

Of the nearly 200 plugins already available, a surprising number of them are functional for a new modality of Commerce. Agent Commerce is here, and it’s breaking through the skeuomorphic barrier that has held eCommerce back for so long. 

Skeuomorphism occurs when a digital medium, like a desktop computer or a smartphone, mimics real-world, tactile objects, in order to aide adoption of the platform. Think of the desktop computer — files, folders, a recycling bin.

eCom has always had skeuomorphic roots. Paper catalogs also had tabs along the side to aid navigation. There were product detail pages, and upsells. Many of the design patterns we use today were invented by Sears in the 19th century, and perfected by storied merchants like LL Bean and Spiegel.

Until now.

We’re rapidly creating new paradigms that feel much more human — a threaded chat — that allows a user to have an agent build a cart for them outside of their browsing sessions, and return that populated cart to them to complete a transaction. This isn’t the future, it’s happening right now. Instacart, Kayak, and Expedia all have the ability to shop offline for a user. Shopify’s ChatGPT plugin allows a user to search hundreds of thousands of Shopify stores, too.

Heading out for the summer to the islands? A quick chat may help you pick an outfit, get some sunblock, refill your medications, and book your travel — all through an agent.

Today’s issue covers stories that signal the death of skeuomoprhism in digital commerce — including the Neuralink human trial.

Imagine if we could merely think to purchase? That would be a far cry from the brainless commerce marketers so heavily rely upon today.

— Phillip

P.S. If you’re observing a long weekend for Memorial Day here in the United States, queue up our most recent podcast for your road trip to the beach house, the lake house, or the Hamptons. Episode 305 of Future Commerce covers Mockup Culture, our phrase for a new signal that brands have become multi-player. The participation economy is here, and you need to know about it if you have any hope of adapting to a new normal. Listen wherever podcasts are found, via Spotify or Apple — or right here.

Anime in the Bay. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in SF is launching a new anime mascot campaign to help promote public transportation to younger riders.

More Sights & Sounds. OpenAI’s ChatGPT app just released and within 6 days it was downloaded half a million times. Turkish AI-backed marketing platform, Insider, raised $105 million in funding and is valued at nearly $2 billion. Klaviyo has announced a new integration with Amazon’s Buy With Prime.

Braless in America. American Eagle’s executive creative director says people aren’t really wearing bras anymore as we have known them. Instead, bralettes and similar pieces are being worn as outerwear. The company is refocusing their intimates line to reflect the change in shopping and wearing habits.

Surprise Profit. Kohl’s unexpectedly posted at profit for their first quarter. The company’s CEO cited their partnership with Sephora as part of the drive behind the increase.

Image from Chipotle's Street Fighter 6 partnership

Eat Fighter: Hold the Guac. Chipotle has entered into a partnership with Capcom’s Street Fighter 6. As part of the activation, users can earn currency within the game for use at Chipotle and the game will feature branded avatar items. Chipotle will also be giving away free food to viewers on Twitch.

Our Take: It would be hard to imagine this type of online-to-offline partnership happening without the NFT gaming craze of 2020-2021. The normalization of rewards through issuance of app rewards has been around since Starbucks’ app success, but the engagement-bait and attention economics of gaming seems like a natural fit for real-world rewards. 

Chipotle will become the first restaurant brand to give free food as a viewer reward on Twitch, which may be notable, as cause for concern grows from those who are wary of audience capture. Twitch streamers are captive to their audiences, and the streamers are captive to the demands of that audience in their quest for rewards. Now that we have clear precedent for watch-to-eat partnerships, one has to wonder where this leads.

Brainless Commerce. Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-implant company, has announced that the FDA has approved the device for a human clinical trial. The company has not yet started recruiting test subjects or said what the aim of the study will be; but all new technology eventually becomes a communication medium, and finds prominence when it becomes commercialized. Caution marketers: the future may actually require for customers to use their brain to shop.

The Great Fashion Graveyard. Satellite imagery from SkyFi has confirmed the huge pile of discarded fast fashion clothing in the Chilean Desert. The image shows the scale of the clothing pile when compared to the town nearby in the image. Our clothing garbage is visible from space. It’s a big problem. We previously covered an Electrolux campaign about the great fashion graveyard in The Senses, September of 2022.

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