This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

November 9, 1999

"Big Boxes" on the Web

52 days until January 1, 2000
418 days until January 1, 2001

For years, retail stores were modest in size. Some were general merchandise stores; others were specialized boutiques. Then mass retailers came on the scene. They built huge stores, compared to facilities operated by long-standing retailers in the community.

These enormous structures became known as "big boxes," reflecting their size and appearance. Service wasn't equal to standards established by smaller merchants, but the big boxes promised significantly lower prices and larger product selection. Customers were attracted away from merchants they'd patronized happily for years as cost-conscious consumers sought better deals and greater choices.

As big boxes invaded town after town, existing retailers attacked their impersonal nature and warned of impending doom. The Wal-Mart Scare forced smaller chains and independents to re-think their strategies to offer products, services, and convenience to combat the foreign scourge. The locals warned the buying public that the big boxes would take their money, give nothing back, and essentially become parasites-sucking the lifeblood out of established businesses and forcing landmark stores to close. They'll fail eventually, merchants warned, but by then familiar merchants will be gone. Indeed, some locals that lacked resilience, creativity, or fortitude did go under. Others thrived as consumers discovered they had choices and decided to shop where they could find knowledgeable clerks, quality merchandise, high levels of service, and companies that cared about their community.

The prophecy may be coming true. Some big boxes are closing, leaving large buildings-eyesores and blights on communities. Some big boxes have proven to be wonderful corporate citizens: once-feared Wal-Mart has proven to be a beneficial partner in the communities it serves. Others have indeed become parasites.

Now the internet retail world is exploding. Consumers are shopping at the boutiques, the specialty on-line stores. And the big boxes are moving in. is expanding to sell practically everything. Big box mentality at the outer limits. Some mass retailers, like Wal-Mart, will continue to be customer-friendly on-line, even local in their orientation. Watch for the good, the bad, and the ugly in internet retailers. The trend we saw with big boxes will be seen again . . . on-line.

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