Today, advertising on a TV screen drives people into stores to buy things. Tomorrow, stores may increasingly become the “advertising” that drives people to buy things via their screens.

Have you never gone into a full-service retailer, decided which item you liked best, and then (feeling just a bit guilty, I hope) gone down the street to buy it at a discount store? Or gone home to order it from an 800-number? Or even, via the Net?

Companies may begin paying retail chains to “showcase” their products, just as they now pay ABC to run their ads. Today they know people watching ABC will run down to the store and buy the product. Tomorrow they may assume many people browsing the full-price store will run home and buy the product, cheap over the Internet.

Worse (from the point of view of the embattled full-service retailer, or his landlord), the Internet will rapidly become more and more adept at providing full-service itself. Full motion videos of the product in action, expert answers and comparisons that a human might not be able to give with such accuracy, or might not have the time or patience to give, or might not care to give 24-hours-a-day.

Shopping is fun. Impulse is fun. Walking around in the real world and talking with attractive young or engaging old sales people is fun. The world won’t change entirely or overnight. There will still be stores.

But more and more people, I think, will come to think of their “UPS man” and their “FedEx person” as a member of the family. That’s why FedEx may not be a bad long-term “core holding.”

Tomorrow: The Earned Income Tax Credit vs the Minimum Wage


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