One Click

19 01 2011

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The internet “went public” in 1994, and by 1995, Powell’s was selling books online from Portland, and shortly after, Amazon started selling books in a garage near Seattle.

And things have never been the same since.

This last holiday shopping season, e-commerce sales climbed to about $36 billion, a whopping 15% increase from the year prior. In fact, there have been only one or two years since 1995 in which the annual growth rate of online shopping has not been in double digits. Which is a handy mathematical way of saying that people dig shopping online. Especially at Christmas.

I speak from experience. This last Christmas, my in-store spending was negligible. Amazon was my store of choice for nearly everything else. Gifts for family members. Gifts for friends. And gifts for me (yeah, I count, too). The UPS man was on a first-name basis at our place.

But I also gave my household what I consider to be the best online gifts that didn’t even need to be wrapped: subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Rhapsody. Think streaming movies, TV shows and music (cue my Nickelback playlist and crank it up). Toss in the fact that I am rapidly transitioning from old-school tangible books to the far more portable iBooks that are filling my iPad, and you have a personal economy that is evolving faster than Darwin’s eye could track. My vestigial bookcase may be showing, but at least it isn’t growing.

Which brings me to my point. E-commerce continues to change the landscape of how we buy and sell. And the “Shop Local” campaigns we commonly see being promoted by local municipalities and chambers of commerce will one day be toothless. Sure, we will always buy stuff locally (to be honest, only about 10% of all holiday sales were online). But the online component (which will increasingly include mobile as well as computer purchases) will continue to rise.

I think my reasons are pretty much the same as everyone else in my camp: I don’t like crowded holiday shopping. I am busy. I despise cold weather. My tastes run far beyond my city’s retail walls. I like a bargain (and I am not even talking about any sales tax savings).

But most importantly, I am empowered. I am no longer held hostage to local pricing. I use a variety of apps (like Red Laser) to scan bar codes, allowing me to quickly find the best deal (whether it is online or in a store). I can find promos and coupons. I can be rewarded.

All of this means that the power struggle has changed. The paradigm has shifted. We are playing offense, while the retailers are playing defense.

And I am the quarterback of my own local economy. Stand back and watch. Because I’m going long.

Dr “First and 10” Gerlich

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