Target and Borders provide the goods for a new generation of traders


Some days I feel older and stupider than other days.  The older, stupider days don’t come from the normal routine and activities of my life, but from reports of the routines and activities of other people. My life is very routine, I rarely go anyplace new, buy any of new products or use most the the current technology.  I am further out of touch because I don’t see any of the television or movies that other people see.  I just plot along repeating the same things days after day.    My slavish adherence to my own routines makes it very easy for me to be totally caught off guard by a news item.   I have no idea about the things that are common place to other people.  Most other people see, buy and use all of the latest forms of entertainment, products and technology; they are not so easily surprised as I am.  Today, I had one of those feeling old and out-of-touch days.

There were two stories that startled me, both had to do with using technology to turn consumers into  retailers. The first story dealt with Target and the designer clothing line by Missoni.  Missoni clothes are said to be very expensive and in high demand and only sold in exclusive retail outlets.  Target has a special arrangement with Missoni, like agreements it has had with other “high-end” designer lines,  to sell a special line of the clothing under the same label.  Unlike previous special lines sold at Target,  this time when Missoni clothes went on sale there was a rush and inundation of shoppers.  The flood of eager spenders shut down Target’s website and caused many stores to completely sell  all of the Missoni items in stock.  Target simply could not keep up with the demand for Missoni.   The reason for the rush was not necessarily an unmet hunger to own Missoni, but rather a form of speculation – something a kin to a day trader on Wall Street.  Within hours, according to the reports, the many of the Target Missoni items were up for sale again on the Internet – at prices much closer to original Missoni prices than the Target Missoni prices.

The second story comes from Las Vegas and was reported by Richard Lake in the Las Vegas Review-Journal; Lake wrote about the last day of Border’s Books in Las Vegas.  The headline of the story was: Las Vegas’ last Borders has final day as technology renders bookstores obsolete.  My first reaction to the story was derision – what about all of the bookstores that have not closed I wonder to myself?  What about the ones that specialized in niches that allowed them to prosper in spite of the mega-stores and the Internet or those that have combined brick and mortar sales with online sales?  I was off base and out of touch – the story was about reselling brick and mortar stuff online and not about conventional online versus brick mortar retail.  It describes one customer who carefully scans the bar codes on the books and then looks up the going price for the book online.  He buys the books he knows he can resell and make a profit.  Because this was the last day for Border’s the books were discounted by 90 percent, which creates a very good profit margin for the shopper/retailer.

The shopper can do the same thing with any books he finds on sale in any store, or a sweater, a lawn chair or anything.  All he needs is his bar code scanning device, access to the Internet and he is in business.  The young man interviewed for Lake’s story did not have a job, he made his living trading online. The Review-Journal article does draw the conclusion that technology, online sales and e-reader books are combing to shrink  bookstores, if not destroy them completely.  It also interviewed employees losing their jobs and others remembering a better time for book sellers, book buyers and book lovers.

I don’t know if that is true it technology is going to bring about the demise of books and book selling as we know it.  But I do know there are some major shifts taking place in all retail that we have yet to completely understand.  At one level, these stories are about, if not the oldest, one of the oldest professions in human society; traders have always bought goods from one peson and then resold the goods to another person.  Traditionally, the trader transported the goods on a camel, horse or a donkey to some major urban commercial center.  The modern version eliminates the camel and market square, but the activity is thousands of years old.  On another level, technology allows today’s traders to move quickly, repackage and reprice the goods for a quick sale and then move off to a new product.  They rely on the technology and speed to create a temporary trading opportunity; quick thinking, technologically savvy and adaptive people – that is why their stories catch me off guard – I am none of those things.   And that makes me feel old and stupid.

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