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The Future of Commerce

By Clayton M. Christensen

In this article, four close observers of e-commerce speculate about the future. Adrian Slywotzky believes the Internet will overturn the inefficient push model of supplier-customer interaction. He predicts that in all sorts of markets, customers will use choiceboards—interactive, on-line systems that let people design their own products by choosing from a menu of attributes, prices, and delivery options. And he explores how the shifting role of the customer—from passive recipient to active designer—will change the way companies compete. Clayton Christensen and Richard Tedlow agree that e-commerce, on a broad level, will change the basis of competitive advantage in retailing. The essential mission of retailers—getting the right product in the right place at the right price at the right time—is a constant. But over the years retailers have fulfilled that mission differently thanks to a series of disruptive technologies. The authors identify patterns in the way that previous retailing transformations have unfolded to shed light on how retailing may evolve in the Internet era. Nicholas Carr takes issue with the widespread notion that the Internet will usher in an era of "disintermediation," in which producers of goods and services bypass wholesalers and retailers to connect directly with their customers. Business is undergoing precisely the opposite phenomenon—what he calls hypermediation. Transactions over the Web routinely involve all sorts of intermediaries. It is these middlemen that are positioned to capture most of the profits.

Article available for purchase at Harvard Business Review

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