COMMENTARY: How technology will change the future lives of Canadians

Seven in 10 Canadians say that it is likely that within the next 10 years, half of all retail transactions including groceries, will occur online, according to a new Ipsos study. STR/AFP/Getty Images

By Mike Colledge Special to Global News

“First Target, now Sears? Why retail jobs will keep disappearing” was the headline of a recent Global News story by Erica Alini. The article does a great job of highlighting some of the many pressures facing Canadian retailers including: changing consumption patterns, changing tastes (ironically, we are looking for products that are young and hip while our population gets older and older), and the shift to e-commerce.

The jury is still out for Sears and other retailers about whether they will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Artificial intelligence, robots, the sharing economy, digital currency and our country’s demographic changes will combine to reshape our everyday lives so much that by the time we celebrate our 200th anniversary, the teens who recently celebrated Canada’s 150th will look at leaving the house to buy something the same way that they look at a school trip to a pioneer village today.

Sure, it’s interesting to know that butter used to be churned by hand, but it’s not an activity they would swap their Xbox for.

Retailers aren’t alone in facing these changes. Manufacturers, the service industry, energy companies, local communities, governments and individual Canadians are experiencing an unprecedented scope and pace of change.

There is no shortage of future forecasters that tell us how these changes will play out, but at the end of the day, every change requires people to accept it and then adopt it into their everyday lives.

The mobile phone was accepted very quickly because it makes our lives easier, keeps us connected and more recently, has become the one essential tool we need to navigate our lives.

The mobile phone has all but eliminated the need for GPS, which in turn, eliminated the need for maps. But other changes may not be so readily accepted and may actually have greater consequences.

What about changes that might eliminate jobs or an entire occupation? What about the changes that might make the idea of privacy or the idea of owning a car a thing of the past?

Ipsos recently completed the CanadaNext study where we asked Canadians about the next 10 years and their views of close to 50 future scenarios related to the adoption of new technologies, how communities and businesses will manage our shifting demographics, and the role of government, business and individuals in managing the future.

We did this because we think it is just as important to look forward and measure the expectations of Canadians as it is to take a pulse of what’s happening today.

The CanadaNext study will be released in September at a symposium hosted by the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, but given the dilemma facing Sears and other retailers, we thought it would be good to share with Global News readers some insight into what Canadians say they think the future looks like for Canadian retailers.

First and foremost, online shopping is not a trend that will fade away. Seven in 10 (73 per cent) Canadians say that it is likely that within the next 10 years, half of all retail transactions including groceries, will occur online.

When we asked if they thought this would make their life better or worse, a plurality (37 per cent) said it would make their lives better but 30 per cent said it would make their lives worse.

Canadians seem to be saying that the death of brick and mortar (they see the same thing for retail, banks and government offices but less so for movie theatres) seems to be inevitable.

In the case of retail stores, 76 per cent of Canadians said it was likely that half of Canada’s retail outlets would disappear in the next 10 years. However, Canadians do not think that disappearing retail stores is a good thing.

Six in 10 (62 per cent) said it will make their lives worse, and only 17 per cent said it will make their lives better.

Canadians very much like the benefits of online shopping, but when we asked them to look to the future of home delivery, only a small majority (54 per cent) said that delivery of packages by drone or autonomous vehicle would be a good thing for most Canadians.

They also feel that the new technology that will lead to the decline of local brick and mortar stores will also lead to job loss across Canada. Six in 10 (58 per cent) told us that the adoption of new technologies would likely lead to mass unemployment in Canada.

Shifts in the retail environment are only one aspect of the change wave that has 70 per cent of Canadians saying that the world is changing too fast, and only 42 per cent saying they are excited about the future.

Increasingly, it looks like Canadians are anticipating (although not always accepting) the changes that are coming to their communities, businesses and the economy.

Some Canadians feel that they are part of the change and are excited about the opportunities, while others feel more like the change is happening to them.

Increasingly, the way Canadians feel about change in general is also reflected in the retail sector, as companies that are embracing change create new opportunities, while those that aren’t are losing ground.

The CanadaNext study is a partnership between Ipsos, IBM, the University of Toronto and Canada2030. In the coming weeks, we will share more of the CanadaNext study with Global News readers.

Mike Colledge is president, Canada Ipsos Public Affairs.

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