In our continuing book-shopping saga, add to your favorites, which searches — among several others — a Canadian outfit specializing in remaindered books, I was horrified to find the $24.95 hardcover of My Vast Fortune there for $4.79 (versus $16.10 at Amazon). Thanks to Barry Basden for pointing this out.

But in response to my notions that the Internet will make price competition acute — great for consumers, tough on vendor profits — Joshua Rasiel makes a different point:

“I predict this ‘price-bot’ craze will never happen, and if it does, it’ll self-destruct. Has everyone forgotten about value? Let’s look at regular commerce: If I go to K-mart instead of an upper-class store, 9 times out of ten, I can get the exact same album, shirt, or whatever, at a discount. Everyone knows that. Not everyone cares to get something the cheapest way they can, because they know that You Get What You Pay For. And that doesn’t always mean ‘expensive is good,’ but it does mean that if you care, quality is worth paying for.

“Take gasoline. Same exact product everywhere. Does the cheapo Fill ‘n’ Fly (real name; a chain in NJ) force Exxon under? of course not, because we all know that Exxon offers more in the way of service and reliability. they have more to lose if you end up with sugar in your tank, and aside from that, they’re cleaner, and they have slurpies.

“People pay for value. If an internet company wants to stay afloat and not slash prices to the bone, they ought to be remembering that.”

Well, I agree and disagree. It costs a fortune to build a chain of physical stores, to staff it and keep it clean, etc. And imagine the cost of hiring sales clerks who are all polite, knowledgeable and college-trained. And the cost of putting these stores in appealing neighborhoods. Yes, all this adds to the shopping experience. But the cost of doing the same on the Net is almost negligible. A few talented people can make it look and feel cheerful, polite and alert all the time — with no wait at the check out, no problem parking, no fear of the other patrons (or of being seen entering the store). At the back-end, FedEx delivery (or UPS or USPS) is the same whether you get it from the high priced site or the cheap one.

So, yes, sites will have to be reliable and meet certain standards to win and keep customers. But the barriers to this kind of entry are not terribly high. And the $150 bottle of pills, prescribed by your doctor, is really no better than the identical prescription filled for $97 on the Internet. Identical products have the same value regardless of what you paid for them. People will pay up for brand names and labels. But I doubt there will be much cachet in being able to show off an Amazon box versus the box of some competitor. Once the books come, I throw out the box.


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