The End of Scarcity

Steve Dennis
3 min readDec 11, 2020


“To my mind the old masters are not art; their value is in their scarcity.”

- Thomas A. Edison

Before the age of digital disruption, scarcity played in a big role in determining retail’s winner and losers. Sure, having a compelling value proposition was helpful, but in many cases sheer lack of reasonable alternatives allowed for some pretty average retailers to do quite well for a long time. Yet over the past two decades scarcity has been eroding in just about everything. And this insight goes a long way to explaining why some many retailers have found themselves in serious trouble and what it will take for them to go from mediocre to remarkable. Let’s go deeper in how we’ve gone from a world of scarcity to one of abundance.

Information is no longer scarce. We don’t have to rely on highly controlled advertising campaigns, a salesperson’s word or the recommendation of a neighbor. Blogs, vlogs, listicles, social media sites and more, provide all manner of reviews and tips. A given consumer’s media options from a handful of traditional radio, TV, magazine and local newspaper options to an explosion of digital options from around the world.

Choice is no longer scarce. Even in we were fortunate enough to have a wide variety of stores near where we lived or worked, product selection was limited to whatever they could fit in their physical space. And even if they carried what we desired, we had to hope they had in stock. The friction is product search is largely gone. We don’t have to drive from store to store to find what we want. A Google or Amazon search will do a pretty good job of tapping into what’s conveniently available. And for all practical purposes, the aisles are endless and we get to benefit from the “long tail” of product distribution.

Product access is no longer scarce. Before online shopping existed, the stuff we could buy was pretty much limited to the stores in our town. And we could only shop when they happened to be open. Now, consumers with adequate means can obtain just about any product they want, from anywhere in the world. And the internet never closes.

Connection is no longer scarce. Our networks or tribes aren’t constrained to family, neighbors, colleagues and largely in-person communities of interest, like a church group or book club. The explosion of social media allows for us to be connected to just about anyone-what Mitch Joel refers to as “Six Pixels of Separation.”

Cheap is no longer scarce. While discount mass merchandisers, dollar stores and factory outlets have been around a long time, search engines, coupon sites and browser extensions make it much easier to find the best deal without ever having to leave our home. The overall growth of e-commerce, combined with the willingness of some investors to fund operating losses in favor of the hyper-growth of some disruptive business models, has had an overall depressive effect on consumer pricing.

In a world of abundance, even very good is no longer good enough. As Seth Godin first teased out in his legendary (legend dairy?) Purple Cow TED talk, faced with this erosion of scarcity we have to find new and different ways to become the signal amid the noise, to rise dramatically above the ordinary.

Simply stated we have to choose remarkable.

We discussed the end of scarcity-and more-with Seth on a recent episode of the Remarkable Retail podcast.

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Steve Dennis

Keynote speaker & strategic advisor on retail innovation. Top 10 retail influencer. Senior Forbes contributor. Best selling author of “Remarkable Retail.”