Instant Gratification Is Coming to a Website Near You

Animals, including humans, are hard-wired to seek out instant gratification. Evolutionarily, things that give us short bursts of pleasure have tended to increase our chances for survival, but in the modern world, those things aren't always healthy for us. Still, we seek out instant gratification because we're naturally inclined to do so, and now major brands are looking for ways to give it to consumers.

The Problem With Online Enterprises

Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and countless other online-exclusive major brands have built profitable international empires by offering commerce services to anyone with an Internet connection. But until recently, they've lagged behind physical stores in the area of instant gratification. When you go to a store to buy something, let's say a new table, you can feel it in your hands when you walk out of the store, know you're only moments away from setting it up on the drive back, and start enjoying the table later that night. This is instant gratification at work--online stores can give you confirmation pages, and possibly an email update, but they can't replicate the instant feeling of physical touch and knowledge of soon-to-be-enjoyment.

For years, online brands have tried to replicate this feeling through digital means, by offering fast follow-up emails and live updating order tracking, but now, thanks to advances in technology, they'll be able to give you something closer to the gratification of a physical store.

Touch Buttons

Amazon was the first to introduce touch-based order buttons, called the Amazon Dash Button, which helps Amazon Prime members quickly order items they're likely to need regularly. For example, for a small price, you can purchase a physical button to attach to your washer; when you run out of your favorite laundry detergent, you can push the button and automatically order more.

There are a few potential problems with this system, such as accidental ordering and vulnerability to manipulation, but it offers users something physical and tangible when placing their orders. Ordering products ceases to be an online activity and goes back to being an in-person, instantly gratifying one (even if the background process happens to be online). Don't be surprised if you see more brands offering something similar in the near future.

Same-Day Delivery

Touch-based buttons are nice, but they don't give you the products themselves instantly. That's what same-day delivery is for. Amazon has been trying for years to expand its existing same-day delivery service, which is currently available for over a million items (as long as you live in one of a few select cities). To expand operations would require a technical leap forward, such as the introduction of drone-based delivery units. But because drones (and emerging technologies in general) face innumerable legal hurdles before they can be used en masse and human-based deliveries tend to get expensive without sufficient demand, there hasn't been much progress in this area as of late.

WunWun, a startup catering to instant gratification directly, faced a similar dilemma earlier this year. Operating in New York and San Francisco, WunWun was an app powered by human deliverers that promised the ability to deliver products (and sometimes, services) within an hour (or a few hours for longer requests). Unfortunately, the costs grew too prohibitive for the company to scale effectively, and has since been gobbled up by digital assistant app Hello Alfred. Other companies, like Task Rabbit, have similarly used a human element to convey instant gratification to users.

Digital Assistants

Functioning as a kind of blend between mechanical touch buttons and human deliverers, digital assistants could potentially offer their own kind of instant gratification. Apps like Siri and Cortana specialize in finding information on your behalf in a digital interface, but new systems like the aforementioned Hello Alfred and upcoming Facebook M promise to place orders and accomplish other tasks on your behalf. Getting a human-like confirmation that your request is being taken care of somehow feels more gratifying than an automatically generated order confirmation screen, though it still doesn't overcome the hurdle of getting products in your hands faster -- at least not by itself.

The technical and legal hurdles preventing major corporations from pursuing some of these options are only temporary -- technical obstacles can always be overcome with new innovations, and legal hurdles tend to diminish as society gradually accepts new mores. What isn't temporary is the human need for instant gratification. Over the next several years, expect online brands to scramble to be the first to offer a truly instantly gratifying customer experience with every order.