Can you imagine getting to the shops five minutes later than planned only to find that your local supermarket had increased prices by ten percent? While those lucky enough to be able to shop at ‘off-peak’ hours benefit by having lower supermarket prices to pay .
These e-prices are the big retailers’ vision for the future of shopping in the UK, with prices varying throughout the day by up to 90 percent. Retail prices that fluctuate throughout the day to reward those people that shop at the ‘right’ time and penalise those that have to queue up during peak hours.
This seems almost counter-intuitive if you look at it from a 'shopper-experience’ point of view, but makes sense from the angle of a shop-owner who wants to smooth out demand across the day as much as possible as it is far easier to manage and makes it easier to improve the shopping experience for all.
Although this is already common in the USA and in Europe, UK shoppers may well be unhappy with this technological innovation as it could (and probably will) be used by some of the more unscrupulous shop-keepers to artificially inflate prices in the confusion that this could generate.
But, there will of course be App-developers out there who see an opportunity to create a smartphone aid to help shoppers find the cheapest prices while on the run from work to sandwich provider.
However, I do not think it will end up just being something that business and shoppers will have to come to terms with between themselves. Some bright spark somewhere will come up with the idea that this could be used to modify shoppers’ behaviour across the board. Consider that these price fluctuations will also apply to the VAT charged, i.e. tax. Now, what if a small extra tax – say a local purchase tax – could also be added on top of VAT to the price of goods that could be varied between zero and ten percent throughout the day (or even just vary the VAT once we are out of the EU). That is not only achievable with modern technology but would be highly attractive to towns and cities that want to ease congestion at certain times as well as address parking issues and smooth out traffic flow across the day or even the week. It would also boost local tax revenue and probably be cheaper to collect than congestion charges and the like.
You can expect to see e-prices phased in over the next couple of years and be embedded in the shopping experience within say five years. After all, the concept already applies to holidays and entertainment venues, why not the ordinary day-to-day shop? The tax element may never happen, but somehow I think it might be applied in some form or other where government and local authorities think they can get away with it.