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Rush Hour

Consumers demanding instant graification warn businesses it's now or never.

We're not talking hours. We're not talking minutes. We're not even talking seconds. No, to get to consumers in the hyperpaced (and cyberspaced) 1990s, it can conceivably take only milliseconds. Fast. Faster. Fastest. What an astounding, confounding and pulse-pounding time in which we live. And this push to gratify consumers in an instant--even as the jesters among us contend that instant gratification itself now takes too long--is not a phenomenon destined to lose steam.

"Customers have so many choices today that they can be very fussy about whom they buy from," observes Roger Blackwell, author of From Mind to Market: Reinventing the Retail Supply Chain (HarperBusiness). "If a store can't provide what they want, when they want it, they have plenty of alternatives that will."

It wasn't always this way, of course. Even assembly-line pioneer Henry Ford once sardonically suggested customers could have any color of car they wanted--as long as it was black. Those days are long gone. Instead, consumers are now asking for--and getting--the speed foreshadowed by Ford's assembly line coupled with choices galore. "Today, consumers have a lot of power," says Regis McKenna, chair of Palo Alto, California, business and marketing strategy firm The McKenna Group and author of Real Time: Preparing for the Age of the Never Satisfied Customer (Harvard Business School Press). "Technology providing immediate feedback [is in place], and it's building higher and higher expectations by the consumer for immediate service."

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rush Hour.

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