Guy with laptopCredit: stock.xchng - frencenz [Image ID: 427091]

The world of business is evolving. E-commerce and online marketplaces are changing the way people do business, purchase products and consume information.

Can you believe that 85 percent of web surfers shop online today[1]? In case you've been living under a rock, we're not talking small potatoes anymore. It's a mass movement!

Although there are still a few around, we have watched video game arcades, video rental stores and CD store locations significantly decrease in number in North America. Even various electronic stores like Future Shop and Best Buy locations are shutting down across Canada[2].

The convenience of cloud based services, near unlimited selection and low subscription fees have meant that the need to own digital media has reduced considerably. Today, you can access your music, movies, TV shows and video games on the fly without having to store everything on your hard drive.

However, it isn't just the entertainment sector that has had to shift with the times. Virtually every item imaginable can be purchased online, and while people still utilize storefronts to scan display shelves and find products, they don't necessarily buy them onsite or demonstrate a great degree of customer loyalty anymore.

One has to wonder what the shopping mall of tomorrow will even look like. Will they become unnecessary or obsolete? Will they become medical and entertainment centres? Will they turn in to display spaces where people can scan a code and see a list of online distributors and prices?

Let's take a look at a few different industries and their likelihood of moving online or remaining offline.

Sectors that are Unlikely to go Completely Online

This is far from a comprehensive list, but for the moment, these particular niches are unlikely to go 100% online.

Hair Care: I'm sorry, we haven't quite figured out how to give you a haircut over the internet yet. I'm not saying that it can't happen, but short of getting a housemate to cut it, you're going to have to make a trip to a salon or a barber shop to take care of it. I suppose onsite haircuts could become a thing.

Clothing: There is a lot of clothing that can be purchased online, but certain items pretty much have to be tried on before they can be decided on. Sizes and fit can vary a lot when it comes to underwear, jeans and shirts. The internet is a great place to find specialty items, but we haven't quite figured out the holographic fitting angle yet (or adaptive clothing like in Back to the Future 2), so until we do, storefronts aren't going away.

Shoes: Shoes are very much like clothing in that size and fit can vary a lot from brand to product model. Again, you can buy shoes online if you want to - there's practically nothing you can't buy online - but you don't want to end up feeling uncomfortable in shoe-wear that you're going to be using on a daily basis.

Gyms: I have heard that you can burn calories merely by thinking, clicking a mouse, typing and/or laughing. Realistically, however, you're not going to get into shape by sitting on the couch at home. You can set up a home gym, of course, but you're still going to need to make use of it. Maybe they'll come out with a piece of equipment that will exercise your body for you. Maybe the internet will start burning calories. Until then - and for other reasons like the social aspect of working out where other people are - gyms will likely remain.

Holodeck2.jpgCredit: Wikipedia

Instruments: Based on what I've seen, some guitar shops or instrument stores are struggling right now. Conversely, I have seen very few actually shut down. In fact, in Calgary where I live, the number of instrument stores has gradually increased over time. Although buying instruments (and accessories) online is definitely convenient, people generally need to play an instrument before making the final decision to buy it. People will probably always need repairs too.

Others: Medical care, eye care, experiential entertainment (mini golf, theatre, swimming & water parks, etc.), and others. Let me know when Holodecks and Sick Bays become commercially viable.

Sectors that Might go Online

If the fact that you can still buy CDs, DVDs and video games in stores is any indication, there are very few businesses that are actually 100% internet-based right now. However, there are sectors that could see a more gradual but progressive shift to the online world.

I'm not here to scare anybody, nor am I necessarily advocating that all industries move online. However, if you follow the trends, it's not unrealistic that a great many more businesses could migrate to the online world.

Automotive: I know, you probably think I'm crazy, but I believe that car shopping could be done almost entirely online. We may still require central locations where we can test-drive vehicles (for all the wonderful tactile sensations and new-car smell), but salesmen are essentially superfluous now that you can find all the numbers, all the specs and colors, customer reviews, and even take virtual tours online. If people can make large electronics orders online without ever having to physically touch the product, vehicles aren't a huge stretch.

ATM 1Credit: stock.xchng - Bongani [Image ID: 794351]Banking: I have already heard talk about reducing the number of tellers at banks, but now that financial information is so readily available on the internet, will financial advisors and experts also become unnecessary? And, even if their expertise is still required, couldn't they offer their services through video conferencing? Clients could hash out mortgage contracts, decide on investment opportunities, and get financial advice all from the comfort of their own home.

Mobile: As popular as mobile devices are right now and how the kiosks line the malls, the need to buy the products from a physical location are virtually nil. It seems pretty obvious, but if people can buy desktops and laptops online, they can definitely make purchase decisions on tablets and smartphones from their home as well, and many already do. The sticking point is mobile providers and the plans they offer, but if they're upfront about fees and all the features they offer, there's no reason why a consumer can't make a decision online.

Others: Swimwear, books, paper products, and others. Again, this is strictly hypothetical and for each product or industry you could probably argue one way or the other.