THE FUTURE was a topic that came up a lot at the ACS annual Summit this week.

Among the speakers was noted British futurologist Dr James Bellini who painted a picture of the future both exciting and terrifying.

He asked retailers to consider the ‘digital natives’ – young people who have grown up with the internet and who are used to paying for things online, interacting with their friends through Facebook and Twitter and playing roles in ‘virtual communities’.

“You are digital immigrants,” he told us, “But these people are digital natives. Things like iTunes are very normal everyday things for the next generation – and if they can buy these things without resorting to cash they will see no reason why they shouldn’t do that in convenience stores.”

According to A C Nielsen, by 2020 only 10 per cent of financial transactions will be in cash. What a strange thought that is.

Dr Bellini reminded us that seemingly zany and bizarre futuristic contraptions are already being developed, such as a mobile payment system based on telepathy. This involves a device that attaches to the user’s head like a futuristic set of goggles.

For a technological – how shall I put it, layman, such as myself, it’s hard to imagine how the heck a thing like this would even begin to work. What if you end up buying things by accident just by thinking about them? The danger of food shopping while hungry just became a lot more serious.

Personally I’m not sure how many of the 50,000 small independent retailers in the UK are ready to cater for telepathy-based financial transactions at this stage. But with contactless payments becoming more available and some retailers now operating their business from iPads behind the counter, it’s worth thinking about, is it not, what retailing will look like in two, five, 10 or 25 years from now?