One Year Ago: The Victims of E-Commerce

Originally published on December 14, 1999 and brought to you today as a time capsule.

Amid the hype and optimism surrounding the rise of e-commerce is theinescapable fact that a number of traditional businesses are falling by thewayside.

One obvious trouble spot is the independently owned bookstore,which simply does not have the market muscle to compete with giants such asBarnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.

The corner travel agency is also getting a run for its money, in part becauseonline travel companies are now offering irresistibly cost-effective packagedeals to globe-trotting Web surfers, and also because the major airlines are offeringdiscounts to those travelers who book tickets online.

Read All About It Online

Newsstands are another clear casualty of e-commerce. After all, whywould a reader trudge through the snow to buy a newspaper when the samecontent is available online?

This trend is most noticeable in New York City, where newsstands once dottedvirtually every corner of every block. With more than 2000 North Americannewspapers and 1500 foreign papers on the Web, newsstands that have operatedfor the betterpart of the 20th century have either shut down their operations or havemoved to smaller quarters.

On The Way Out

With major video and DVD rental and sales merchants localizing theirefforts, the corner video store may be on the way out as well. If a customercan go online, order and pay for a rental video, and have it delivered within aspecified period of time, chances are that the video store will truly becomeunnecessary.

Other businesses may retain their traditional brick and mortar presence, butreduce or eliminate their workforce. The gas stationwill still be there, but the attendant likely will not. Similar fates couldawait dry cleaners, pharmacies, banks and other traditional consumeroutlets.

Lessons Learned

There are also, of course, the traditional businesses that have sufferedirreversible financial losses due towell-intentioned forays into the world of e-commerce. Price-gougingWeb design firms, fulfillment headaches and delivery breakdowns have causedsome e-business newbies to fold before they even get a chance to test thewaters.


Ultimately, e-commerce is presenting small businesses with a high stakescatch-22. Those that choose to stem the tide by battening down the hatches and staying close to home are getting swept away in record numbers. However, those that attempt to beat e-commerce by joining it are finding that the road is littered withthe wreckage of those who have failed before them.

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