The last two decades were the era of hypermarkets - massive superstores that could dazzle customers with an astonishing array of standardized products. But there are signs that the superstore's age of dominance may be over. In recent months, hypermarkets around the world - Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour - have announced results that fell short of expectations. Conventional wisdom is that this reflects the economic cycle, but it may be the first sign of a more fundamental shift.
The world's economic history can be seen as a race between transportation and communications. Transportation innovations allow supply chains to carry increasingly large quantities, which encourages standardization. Communications innovations, on the other hand, allow for better specification of design, quality, quantity and time of delivery, which tends to encourage customization. The dominant economic model of any era emerges from the relative evolution of these two technologies.
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