By Stanley Bing
April 8, 2008

CNN Money reports that, according to a survey to be released Tuesday, Internet sales of cars, computers and other retail items will increase by 17% this year in spite of the current economic wilt.

“Retail sales online, excluding travel purchases, are set to grow to $204 billion in 2008 from $174.5 billion last year,” the story goes, “fueled by sales of apparel, computers and autos, according to a survey conducted by Internet analysis firm Forrester Research for Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation trade group. That projection is below the 21% increase seen in the prior year, but industry officials attribute it to the maturing of the business, not the sluggish economy.”

There are, I think, two factors at play here. The first is my personal experience with Forrester Research, which has always existed to pump up the jam on all new media, offering quote monkeys, studies and other background in support of the digiteri. Sometimes their studies are right. Sometimes they are wrong. But like all consultancies, they tend to tip generously toward the portion of the mercantile animal that’s offering them the greatest nourishment. So I always take such studies with a grain of salt.

Still, the findings make sense. This year, instead of going to bookstores all the time, I’ve shopped on Amazon (AMZN) more often. When I needed film for a retro-photo project I was contemplating, I went to B&H Photo online. I even got my rugs from some guys on E-Bay (EBAY). Paid 99-cents for a beautiful room rug, plus $160 in shipping. Okay, I know they made their money on the shipping, but still… what a deal! And obviously, there’s always the Apple (AAPL) iTunes store, which has probably eliminated all entertainment stores single-handedly. There used to be a big FYE on the corner near my office. Now it’s gone. I’m sure it will be replaced by either a bank or a super drugstore, the two great ubiquities of contemporary urban life.

We are now entering a zone where it’s quite possible that there will be two parallel realities, as there is in a quantum universe. In the real world, the one where real people move about in actual space and spend physical green money to purchase hard objects they carry home with them, there will be a dead economy, with low growth and high unemployment. In the virtual world, however, things will be terrific, as virtual funds rocket across imaginary counters, ringing fictional cash registers while providing digital goods and services. In the real world, the commercial zones of our cities lie empty except for drugstores, banks and chain coffee shops. In the virtual universe, a cornucopia of colorful opportunities await!

Of course, the time may come when we all run out of even virtual money. Then what will we do, I mean… really?

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