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For almost all of human history everyone has had to live near to where they worked.  This gave rise to settlements, around arable land, then around mills and so on until we had cities – since that is where the work was.

Now in the age of VPNs and remote office workers, we don’t all need to live where we work.  We don’t even have to get to our offices.  This is important when it can take well over an hour to commute each way.

What does that do for the retail environment that counted on traffic wandering by their offerings?

It means retailers have to reach out to where the population is, will be or wants to be.

This is the same kind of retail real estate revolution that changed downtown shopping into suburban malls with the advent of the car and the ability to commute to work.

The best retail vehicle to reach remote customers is the internet rather than bricks and mortar.  The world of eBay, Amazon and all the other sites mean that physical real estate will now be less valuable.  Who needs a lot of bricks and mortar when you can connect to someone in their pajamas 25/8 (that’s the sequel to 24/7 because 24/7 is over-used).  The real estate that will count is the real estate of the mind and on the web.

Anyone wonder why you can buy a house in Buffalo or Pittsburgh for $10,000?  (But let’s not pick on Buffalo, there are a lot of great things there – wings, beef on weck and much much more).  The same will happen in cities that don’t have the right attractions for migrating workers.

Longer term thinking would say that real estate will increase in value where people want to be.  But where is that?

We can check the top ten lists of where people want to live.  There are lots of those published by lots of magazines and survey companies.  You could read Richard Florida’s books.  His theory is that people want to live where life can be fun.  Where there is diversity, recreational opportunities and a rich cultural life.  Think how different that is from the past 100 years when people wanted to live where there were jobs.  How else did Detroit, among many other cities, get so big?

For the past couple centuries there has been a migration to cities for jobs.  And in North America, a migration from the Northeast to the South and West.  For Canada, Vancouver and Victoria constitute the South and the West.  If this migration was just to fill the empty spaces in North America then we would see huge populations in Nebraska and Saskatchewan.

Now where are workers and buyers going to migrate to?  Places with interesting living conditions.  Places where you can self actualize, find yourself, raise your children, whatever you want to do while you put in eight hours a day remotely to an office that could be anywhere.

There is not even any national border in the way of working remote.  That has moved employee tax bases to places like Bangalore where abundant English speakers provide worldwide service.  It allows animation companies to work on projects all 24 hours of the day by scheduling three eight hour work days in different time zones with all workers on the same project working on the same servers.

Particularly work, particularly non-verbal work, is easily done off shore at lower costs than in North America, plus it can be done while you are sleeping.  Add in to VPN, skype, IM, email, ftp sites, and other facilitating technology and voilá.  Using an intranet or VPN to track work schedules and projects is no longer edgey.  For workers who have to meet with clients, a $500 plane flight every month or two is still cheaper than renting downtown office space.

So retailers have to respond to this opportunity by offering their wares not only locally, but wherever interested prospects may be.  And they can locate their bricks and mortar wherever costs work out best and wherever delivery systems allow.

You, yourself, may find a way to do your work from wherever in the world you want to live.  There may be a day when you declare “PHUKET!”

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