Department stores and big retail chains once dictated the clothes Americans wore and the products they used simply by stocking those goods on their shelves. That influence is fading away to nothing in a world of infinite options offered by e-commerce competitors.
If department stores still ruled retail, shoppers would buy the black wool coats and plain cotton sweaters they showcase by the dozens. The sheer scale of large retailers and their aversion to merchandise risk demands more homogeneous inventories aimed at the middle of the road.
On the Internet, e-commerce companies offer mind-boggling variety — from a million different styles of shoes on a single site to a custom white-gold engagement ring designed to resemble the “Star Wars” character R2D2. In the age of e-tail, shoppers are increasingly becoming America’s tastemakers with the choices they make collectively online. …
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The Boston Globe 12/14/2014