I speak to a great many retailers and retail associations and in the past year I’ve delivered keynote presentations to Target, HEB Grocery, Hy-Vee, the Food Marketing Institute and, early next month, I’ll be traveling to Chennai, India to speak on future trends to a small group of executives at PepsiCo’s Asian Region President’s Leadership Academy.

One of my main messages, to quote the science fiction writer William Gibson, is this: “The future is already here … it just isn’t evenly distributed.” To this end, here are five trends from foreign lands that retailers should be aware of today:

Trend #1: Mobile shopping. In 2011, Tesco installed virtual displays on the walls of subway stations in Seoul, South Korea to allow time-strapped consumers the opportunity to use their smartphones to select items from a “virtual grocery aisle.” Those items were then delivered to their home by the time they arrived back home from work in the evening. According to this video, Tesco increased online sales by 130 percent.

Trend #2: Social Shopping. In India, Aaramshop is allowing consumers to use Facebook to shop for household items. The site, which partners with hundreds of local neighborhood shops and provides them a free online presence, then uses these small shops to deliver the goods. The consumer is saved the hassle of traveling to a store and the local shops generate new business by connecting with customers in their vicinity.

Trend #3: Facial Recognition Technology. Unilever is now using facial recognition technology not to target digital advertisements at customers—an application that is certainly coming—but instead with focus groups to discern whether people actually like a new product. (Often, the testers will claim they like the product but their facial reaction suggests a different story.) More interestingly, Unilever has also used the technology to dispense ice cream. The company installed facial recognition technology in vending machines and made people smile before dispensing the ice cream. (Kraft is experimenting with similar technology.)

Trend #4: From outsourcing to crowdsourcing. It should be no secret that innovative ideas do not reside solely within the walls of corporations. Instead, consumers—the very people who use products everyday—are also likely to have some goods ideas. UnserAller, a German company, is now aiming to bring companies and consumers together for the creation of better products. In short, the company is “crowd-sourcing” innovation.

Trend #5: Home Delivery. Hold on, you say, home delivery isn’t a new idea. It is when it’s the likes of KFC and McDonald’s doing the delivering. Many major urban centers in China, India and Africa are now getting so crowded that it is difficult for consumers to get around. By utilizing a team of couriers with access to real-time traffic and road conditions, KFC and McDonald’s has found it can make home deliveries faster and more efficiently than the consumer can get to their retail establishments. As traffic conditions worsen and real-time traffic information becomes more sophisticated look for this trend to grow.

Looking for other posts by retail and consumer futurist Jack Uldrich? Check out recent articles:

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