Netflix of life

I just got the pitch from Staples for their new ink replacement program: You mail in your empty cartridge and they mail a new one back; you pay what you’d pay if you went to the store. It’s Netflix for ink. It’s a small step to having your printer tell Staples through the internet that you just ran out of juice. And that’s not a big step from RFID tags on other merchandise sending in an order. Not to take this too far (as if I haven’t already), but there’s another reason not to go to stores. I’ve been saying for years that retail will become, more and more, a showroom and not always the point of purchase. Oh, of course, most retail will remain mostly instant gratification. But here we talked about looking at books in a store but then ordering them online (that’s what I do already). I wish I could go to a car showroom and not be accosted by the guy who’s going to make the commission (and the only reason the automakers don’t sell direct is regulation). Retailers might take less inventory risk but will also need to be compensated differently: manufacturers pay them for display space, perhaps. OK, I went too far. But we’ll keep seeing these small changes in retail that add up.