Even now, in 2016, if you take a look around in a 7-Eleven or any European counterpart of similar small shops, you can find a comparably huge selection. In fact, this applies to large counterparts (e.g. Wal-Mart in USA or TESCO in Europe) as well: even at the very basic products of human life like bread, milk, flour, water(!), meat, vegetables, fruits and sugar(!!!), you can find multiple different brands, or even product categories! (gluten-free, for lactose intolerance, and so on)

Imagine a setting of any kind in the future, which involves either space colonization, or any kind of conquering new lands. History shows, how the colonization of America (or heck, even the new provinces of the good old Roman Empire) changed the variety of literally anything we can buy. Six centuries ago, it was not that obvious to buy chocolate, sugar, corn and other certain products as it is today.

Space colonization era is different, though.

  • Market economy and competitive business is heavily in effect.

  • Our habits have changed drastically.

  • A space colonization stage of human history can be potentially endless!

The amount of new products, their categories and especially brands can grow almost exponentially!

How would the commercial sector catch up with it the most efficient way?

  • If the selection grows, that means tremendous costs on maintaining a shop, especially a little one. Also, people wouldn't be able to check out every product.

  • If the selection doesn't grow, it excludes certain products and brands from the competition, or would reduce certain ones to be available only at a local level. I'm not sure if it's the right, or the most efficient way, though.

  • $\begingroup$ A space colonization stage of human history can be potentially endless! it is not. this answer section Exponential grow, and whole answer in general. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 4:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You're neglecting all the other things that were common years ago, but are hard to find now. Just for food (and in the US) it's hard to find meats beyond beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. Maybe lamb, but no mutton. Bread is almost exclusively wheat unless you go to a specialty baker. Lots of fruits, like quince, that are likewise only available at specialty stores, if then. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


I would assume not. Quite simply the logistics would be too complicated. While modern stores do have products that a medieval royal cook would give their right (pick organ) to have, practically most stores would have a limited selection based on demand. For the sake of sanity, lets look at a single class of less than perishible food product - say soft drinks.

Most stores would have boring coca cola or pepsi co drinks. That said, I can't buy planet cola (my second favourite drink ever outside random vending machines.). I've never seen irn bru here (I miss irn bru from a short time in the UK). One product is made locally, so clearly its not a matter of transportation. Its a matter of self space, storage space and local laws.

A store aimed at british expats would have no issues selling off a stock of marmite. A store in the middle of a traditional indian community might have trouble giving it away.

Assuming reasonable shelf lives, and infinite selections of product, the determining factor would be demand, especially in a retail setting. More often than not, 'local' products would make more sense, due to shipping times/cost, and the ability to tailor them to local tastes. Sure you might occasionally find unusual products but the core selection of products is likely to be limited, and demand based rather than supply based.


Not in the way you think.

Much of the issue of logistics is shipping stuff around, and supply chain management is fraught with the dangers of overstocking and under stocking items for customers in your stores. With more and more items, your chances of having lots of remaindered items to ship back or sell to a liquidator increase, and your shipping costs are increasing exponentially since you have to make lots of very small deliveries at lots of stores, kiosks and other outlets.

Fortunately, technology is on the way to help out store owners.

3D printing is becoming far more sophisticated, both in resolution (i.e you can make very small details and high levels of finish), and you can print items from may more materials, including having printers which can use multiple materials at once in a print job.

So the store can consist of some very simple holographic or VR displays, a computer kiosk connected to the manufacturer's catalogue and a bank of 3D printing machines in the back room. The store owner simply needs to order bags (or sea cans, depending on volume) of the raw materials (powdered plastic, ceramics and metals) consistent with the demand, and have a staff of people or robots to keep the hoppers filled, assemble the finished items (the 3D printer can manufacture parts, but for many items, the separate parts still need to be fitted together) and perform cleaning and maintenance of the working area.

For impulse purchases, a small stock of items can be manufactured and placed on shelves or in bins (or maybe in cases, like a 1930 era "Automat")

enter image description here

An Automat. You don't see the kitchen or stock rooms, and in a 3D printer store, you don't see the working area

This can be ramped up to various other sorts of vendors. High speed sewing machines fed from spools of fabric could be connected to high resolution scanners. You walk into the booth, look at some VR of yourself in various clothing lines, and then when you make a selection, a custom tailored item is made just for you. Come back and pick it up in an hour.

3D printers can also be used with biological materials. Current research focuses on spraying treated stem cells on a neutral "scaffolding" to grow organs. There is nothing to suggest this could not be done in the back of high end restaurants to "make" excellent cuts of beef, lamb or other meats (you would not order the steak on the spot, but the restaurant would be busy making steaks days or weeks ahead of time for the anticipated demand).

You could even go further and have 3D "factories" which have the capabilities to use industrial processes and chemicals which would be hazardous to household and shopping malls. You look at a catalogue or make a CAD design file for what you want (maybe with some professional help in the background, which is part of the paid service), materials and machines are spooled up and your item gets FedEX'd to your house.

The ever growing catalogue of items remains as information files in a server farm or the "cloud", and the only physical items that need handling are the raw materials coming in the back end of the "store" and your finished products coming out the front.

  • $\begingroup$ More sophisticated logistics software, along with the ability to auto-track every item (RFID tags everywhere) will fix part of the problem of controlling the flow for a much larger product selection. Other limits are caused by item perishability (solved by your answer of 3-D printing of both perishable and non-perishable items), cost of transport (for those items not possible to 3-d printed locally), and storage space (for items that are not 3-d printable, take too long to 3-d print for convenience, or for the storage of the materials used in the 3-d printers). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ The final limit is consumer confusion. Do we really NEED 10,000 brands of peanut butter, and how would consumers determine which of the 10,000 brands they should buy? Chunky, smooth, half and half, organic, GNO peanuts, non-GMO peanuts, 3-d printed peanuts, martian grown peanuts, etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 16:45

At a certain point, small stores become obsolete. You can already see this happening a little. Wal-Mart is replacing separate gardening, grocery, etc. stores. It's easier for people to go to one big store than many small stores. Or look at the way Amazon renders a physical store unnecessary. Not even Wal-Mart can match their inventory in a physical store.

The real problem though comes with the advent of easy 3D printing. Why do you need a store at all then? Just put a 3D printer in your house. You can see this in Star Trek with replicators. You don't go to a tea store or even a grocery store--you just say, "Tea, Earl Grey, hot" and poof, it's there.

Perhaps all "stores" will be virtual. They might even work more like Github, Wikipedia, or Stack Exchange. Shared content that people can update. No money changing hands, so not a "store" in the sense that we use it at all.


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