Shopper Nirvana

Who’s in control of whom? Who’s in control of what?

In the main, such questions are asked about governance. For example, who has power and influence on matters of state? And who has power and influence in the workplace? Nearly always leadership and followership are thought of along these narrow lines – either as they apply to government, or to business.

But power and influence are evidenced in near every aspect of everyday life. Take, for example, the experience of shopping. Yes… shopping! Say you want to buy a can of soup, or a pair of pants, or a washing machine. Past and present procedure is you walk into a store, check the item and the price, decide whether or not you want to make a purchase, and either buy or take a hike. But soon such habit will be history. Soon the balance of power between seller and buyer will shift, from the former to the latter.

In the U. S. what we typically see in a store is a set price – a price set by the merchant. What’s about to change – what ‘s already changing – is our capacity to control the price by comparison shopping, on the Internet, with a handheld device. As Doc Searls wrote in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal – “The Customer as a God” (July 21/22) – the newest technologies work on behalf of you, the customer, rather than on behalf of the other guy, the seller.

I write about this not because consumerism per se is so important, but rather because it’s part of that larger phenomenon of such significance. It is, in other words, about the growing control of the previously powerless, in this case buyers, over the previously powerful, in this case sellers.

As Searls correctly reminds, the “move toward individual empowerment is a long, gradual revolution.” But it is, irrevocably, in process – in the marketplace as everywhere else. Today the supply side still reigns. But in another ten years or so, customers will be tantamount to free agents.

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