Is blockchain coming to a grocery store near you? Without a doubt, say the tech’s proponents, who point out that as an industry, the retail and food businesses are actually ripe for disruption.
Blockchain’s believers are more than sure that the distributed ledger technology has applications well beyond banking and cryptocurrencies. In fact, it’s the more everyday aspects of life like picking up your prescription at the drug store or buying mangoes at the market that will be directly impacted by blockchain in the near future. And that’s whether or not the (current) big tech giants like Apple and Amazon are ready to jump on board.
How do we know? Take it from no less of an expert than ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. This past September, the Russian-Canadian programming guru was speaking at Denmark’s Index Awards, where his company Ethereum had just won top prize in the Community category for its open-source platform. Buterin spoke about how blockchain’s advantage -added transparency, security and efficiency of transactions- make retail a prime target, especially in today’s world where everything from fish sticks to refrigerators have multiple companies around the world involved in production and distribution.
“If you’re buying some food or medicine, for example, you have this complex global supply chain … Ideally, you’d want to have some kind of common shared network that you could use to get all the information about where each individual thing came from so you could trace every part of the product back to where it came from,” says Buterin. “You could have a smartphone app that you could check everything about the product and see if it satisfies your needs. To do this kind of thing, you need to have a shared network and the blockchain is a great way to do it.”
Corporations are already jumping on board, seeing the potential in blockchain to transform international shipping, for example, where companies like Maersk, the world’s largest container ship operator, has just completed a blockchain proof of concept to help track its shipping supply chain.
Airbus is intent on using blockchain to track and monitor all the pieces that go into making its planes. The UN is looking into building a blockchain to validate refugee identification claims. And Wal-Mart recently announced it had used a blockchain to track the shipping history of two mangoes — in two seconds, as opposed to the six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes it took to do the same through standards tracking methods.
How about Amazon, that online retail god? The company recently registered three cryptocurrency-related web domains, though the intent there might be more to do with brand safeguarding than creating its own blockchain ventures.
Amazon has so far made no big reveals about its future intentions regarding blockchain. But they’ll have to, says another Ethereum co-founder, Joe Lubin, who argues that the big tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon are overly centralized and will feel the force of blockchain one way or the other.
“They’ll get religion and become aware,” Lubin said to Fortune.com. “I don’t think you’ll see intermediaries extracting too much value sticking around for too long.”
“Yes, I could absolutely imagine a decentralized Amazon,” Lubin said. “We’ve seen the pieces. They’re not all connected to one another … I could imagine an open platform of many different actors with different roles.”
Below: Vitalik Buterin – Food/Medicine Use Cases for Blockchain