The Store Is Everywhere—Even On the Chairlift

Forecasting skiing's e-commerce future

The matrix will see you now. PHOTO: Courtesy "The Matrix" Screen Savers

The matrix will see you now. PHOTO: Courtesy “The Matrix” Screen Savers

The date? The not-too-distant future. The place? Riding your favorite chair up the mountain on a storm day. Your 5K jacket is soaked to the bone. But the person on the chair next to you, sporting one du jour purple and black coat with a hood that fits their helmet and some real nifty looking zippers, is high and dry. You stop checking Miley Cyrus' tweets on your Google Glasses or smart contact lenses and focus on the coat. Algorithms developed by someone in Lahore, India identify the piece of clothing and project a 3D image of your figure, updated from the last time you stepped on your smart scale, in the new jacket. You like the long fit and the colors match your goggles, so you're game to buy. Your contact lenses then shop for the jacket across the web, comparing prices from different retailers to find the best value. You weigh the benefit of using the free two-day shipping on your Amazon Prime account against the lower price of some anonymous sketchy-looking website. Or you could pick it up at full price during lunch at Local Ski Shop. Yet another option is the hardcore-dude-focused All things considered, you go with Backcountry, and the order is sent before you get off the chairlift. You didn't even have to have that awkward conversation with your chair neighbor to figure out which jacket they were wearing. Welcome to the not-so-distant-future.

Skiers have always been fairly early adopters of technology, whether it’s helicopters, RED cameras, air bags, or backcountry solar panels. Eyewear manufacturers like Zeal and Smith already make goggles with heads-up displays that read speed, song choices, and texts, and POV high-def cameras are ubiquitously planted on top of helmets. Resorts like Aspen/Snowmass use RFID chips to trigger e-mails to skiers about conditions, run openings, and restaurant specials once they get on the chairlift.

While the 3D real-time comparison-shopping scenario might strike some as hopelessly Jetsonian, much of the technology is already in place, and it's not hard to see it progressing rapidly further. An app called Red Laser reads bar codes and searches for the best possible deals, both online and locally. Facial recognition software is already highly advanced, and it wouldn't be difficult to repurpose it to recognize clothing or hardgoods. Then it's not much more of a gap to project a scaled 3D image of that item on a realistic profile of the shopper. And in the post-PC era, where mobile phone traffic on Facebook has now surpassed that of desktops, technology will undoubtedly come in smaller and smaller packages that can be embedded in goggles, glasses, and yes, contact lenses. Then of course The Matrix, and the rest of what William Gibson depicted in his cyberpunk classic Neuromancer, will follow.


The battle anticipated with such a technology, which would allow consumers to shop not just in a store or on a computer, but everywhere, will no doubt center on who has control to deliver. The Amazons, Googles, and eBays will likely be the ones joisting at that level, and it will be interesting to see if ski resorts will try and insert themselves in the equation and try to gain affiliate revenue. Much as TGR will get a slice of the pie every time a user buys a pair of skis after reading a review of them in the forums and clicking through to a retailer, resorts could argue they're providing the venue for the first point of contact between a product and a consumer.

In this new e-commerce market, a product will be comparison-shopped from a multitude of vendors, and according to evo's director of e-commerce Rachel Gardner, retailers will compete on “price, familiarity with the company, loyalty, perks like Amazon Prime, shipping costs, or even taxes base on location.”

Kelly Davis, Snowsports Industry of America’s Director of Research, is optimistic that these advances in e-commerce tech will benefit more companies than just the Amazons of the world. Smaller endemic e-retailers, including Backcountry and evo, are nimble and can move quickly in adopting new technologies. Davis also says that tech-savvy specialty shops could benefit, especially if they’re close by. While the hardcore locals may stick by their loyalty to a certain specialty shop, brick and mortar stores undoubtedly worry that the casual skiers making up the vast majority of the ski market will simply take their business to Amazon. But, being that shopping satisfies more impulses than simply getting a good deal, local shops stand to benefit from customers who would rather buy the jacket that same day and wear it skiing the next. But shops who stay off the web will no doubt suffer.

In the ski market, the balancing act will always be weighing the benefits of everywhere computing against a ski experience valued for its ability to separate us from modern-day distractions. Resorts already make this calculation for the amount of advertising they install on the hill, and Davis believes that as technology becomes more and more omnipotent, a counter-movement to find time and space to unplug will become stronger.