Waiting for the real selling revolution

By popular - and Wall Street - consensus, Amazon.com, CDNow, Peapod and similar offerings have become signature examples of the power of online retailing. But to me, these companies are only the forerunners of the real retail revolution yet to come.

Today, the focus is on how the Web affects traditional retail stores. In the long run, the big story will be the Web's ability to create retailers where there has been none before.

To see why, look at today's trendsetters. Amazon.com is certainly a useful service, but it has hardly revolutionised my book-buying. Between the two of us, my wife and I buy at least a half-dozen books per month - but we pretty much use Amazon only when we think something will be hard to find. Even then, for really obscure works, the Boston Public Library has had a much higher hit rate. Unless you live in a remote area or find getting out difficult, Amazon is just a nice, additional option.

A similar perspective could be applied to CDs, travel planning, stocks and food. My local Tower Records store already has pretty much every CD I'm interested in. Unless you're an active stock trader, telephone and mail do a pretty good job of managing the typical set of consumer mutual funds. And as one who travels a lot, I still haven't found any compelling reason to make my own reservations. Again, these services are nice, but ancillary.

It would be more useful to me if the Web could bring the retail experience to new areas. As someone who works independently, I would like to be able to go to an online health insurance store where I could check out what various companies offer to meet my needs. Doing comparisons today is basically torture. Similarly, I could use Web stores to compare car insurers and rates, mortgages, hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies - even telephone services. All of these would be much more useful than ordering food.

But perhaps more important, the emergence of these stores will likely have a much more profound impact on their existing industries than anything resulting from today's Web retailers. Insurance companies, banks and health care providers are all used to dealing directly with their own customers. All have benefited greatly from the ability to build a high level of familiarity - and inertia, which tends to raise consumer switching costs. When was the last time you changed your car insurance company?

A retail environment could fundamentally change that. Certainly, direct price and service comparisons would become far easier to compile. But just as important, retailers impose their own pressures on suppliers in areas that are the virtual equivalents of shelf space, inventory, discounts, bundling, introductory offers, service and so on.

Selling through a retailer has always been fundamentally different and generally more efficient than selling direct. The point that people tend to miss is that retail stores exist because they provide real value. Though many Web pundits talk of retail as an inherently wasteful thing - one the Web had best get rid of - the next generation of Web entrepreneurs will bring a far different perspective: to them, retail stores are great for consumers. The big question is how to create more of them.

(Moschella is an author, independent consultant and weekly columnist for Computerworld. His Internet address is dmoschella@earthlink.net.)

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Moschella

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?