retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

We spend a fair amount of time here on MNB identifying things and processes and business models that used to be relevant, and suddenly have become outmoded, irrelevant or just obsolete.

It is sort of fun. But there's also no real challenge in pointing out that buggy whips are no longer used, that fax machines are way less useful than they were just a few years ago, or that the print media need to figure out ways to resonate with a population more and more focused on digital.

I was thinking about this the other day when I came up with something that I don't think is out of fashion yet ... but soon will be. Or should be.

Parking meters.

Here's my logic on this.

Think for a minute about how many online retailers over the years have moved to free shipping because bigger competitors like Amazon and Zappos did. Spending money on shipping, when it is so easy not to someplace else, simply doesn't make a lot of sense.

Now, think about parking meters, like this one, or that one can find on main streets or shopping malls all over the country. This happens to be a perfect day to make this point; the weather is cold and lousy, but not only do the stores in this town want me to come out in it to do my shopping, but they want me to pay to park.

The alternative would be to stay home where it is warm and dry and go online and shop at many of the stores that have invested in physical real estate within a block of here - stores like J. Crew or CVS or New Balance or Jos. A Bank. Oh, wait...Jos A. Bank just closed its store here recently, presumably because the economics just didn't work anymore. Think that has anything to do with shopper traffic?

The last thing that Main Street stores need is an impediment or inconvenience to shoppers. Parking meters are, in fact, both. Imagine going to a Main Street store, spending a ton of money, and then getting a ticket because you spent a little more time shopping than you planned.

There may have been a time when it made sense to charge for the privilege of shopping on Main Street or in a mall, but no longer - not when there are options that allow me to avoid Main Street.

Now, I'm sure there will be lots of communities and mall managers who would say that they can't get rid of the meters because of the revenue they produce. Which is the kind of short-term thinking that'll kill you in this competitive climate. The meters might produce revenue now, but if people stop coming downtown and stores close, they're going to lose a lot more revenue than just the meter money.

Now, there probably will be some places where the stores are so differentiated and compelling that they'll still be able to charge for parking. Like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But I think for the vast majority of places, these things are going to go the way of the buggy whip.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: