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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The phrase "future of retail" conjures images of cashier-less groceries, super-fast drone delivery and interactive shopping. But instead it's set to look very different depending on where you live — some Americans will have an array of choice and convenience while others will live in zones barren of retail.
Why it matters: The future of retail will worsen inequality.
Axios’ Erica Pandey writes: The affluent will stroll through beautifully designed brick-and-mortar shops injected with state-of-the-art tech. Meanwhile, consumers in lower-income areas and in smaller towns face a future of big-box retailers and basic dollar stores as their local malls decay.
“We like to imagine retail of the future, but we’re really imagining high-income retail of the future."— Kasey Lobaugh, chief innovation officer for retail at Deloitte
The top: Scores of innovative retail companies are using tech and design to get people out of their homes and into stores, says Natalie Bruss of Fifth Wall Ventures, but "the brands we’re talking about are not going to have a store that's not in a top-50 market."
The bottom: One of every four malls open today is projected to close in the next five years, according to an analysis by Credit Suisse. The vast majority of those endangered malls are in lower-income, less-densely populated parts of the country and are anchored by failing chains like Sears, says Ellen Dunham-Jones, a scholar at Georgia Tech.
Yes, but: Other big retailers are eager to capitalize on hollowed-out malls. Amazon is reportedly seeking out vacant Sears locations to put new Whole Foods stores. And fewer physical retail choices could mean a greater reliance on e-commerce services in some areas.
Why it's happening: Growing inequality in the U.S. has dramatically impacted retail. The bottom 90% has only 20% of the wealth, while the top 1% has upped its share to 40%.
The bottom line: "If you're living in a neighborhood that's doing well in a prosperous metro area, you're oblivious to what's happening in Tulsa and Dayton," says Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Miguel Saldana's shop. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios
A hundred years ago, Lawrence, Massachusetts, was a booming manufacturing town, with bustling textile mills along the Merrimack River. Today, it is one of the poorest places in New England, with a median income of $36,000.
Here, the retail rout has blown through main street.
Erica writes: Miguel Saldana owns a small menswear shop called D Noche on Lawrence's central shopping street. And on Super Saturday, the big last-minute shopping day before Christmas, Saldana stood with his wife and sons in the store, sprucing up sale displays. But he expected very little foot traffic.
Saldana says he's lost his business to Amazon and the local Walmart.
The bottom line: Saldana's store is one of the few clothing shops left on the once-busy street. The retailers keep shuttering, but there's some hope. Main streets like Lawrence's are kept alive by gyms, nail salons, barber shops and restaurants — services that can't move online.
Go deeper: How to save Main Street
Imagine a helicopter and a small propeller plane had a baby: That's what Boeing's new autonomous "passenger air vehicle" — apparently they can't settle on a name either — looks like.
Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports: The plane-copter-thing is electric and can fly on its own for 50 miles — including vertical takeoff and landing, Boeing says. It flew for the first time yesterday.
What's next: Boeing's urban mobility division is also working on a version to carry 500 pounds of cargo, which it says it will test outdoors this year.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Would you eat these carrots? Photo: Getty
Every year, Americans throw away nearly 60 million tons of fresh produce, totaling $160 billion. And about one-fifth of those tossed fruits and vegetables are discarded because they're ugly, bruised or misshapen — even if they taste delicious, reports Vox.
Now, a new food upstart wants to make money off of the bad-looking produce, writes Erica.
But, but, but: Crop scientist Sarah Taber notes on Twitter that the ugly stuff gets used, even if it's not selling in the stores. "Most 'ugly' produce gets turned into soups, sauces, salsa, jam, ice cream, etc. You think that stuff gets made from the pretty fruit & veggies?!"