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The frequency with which consumers shop for groceries, which has been declining for a decade or more, may have picked up thanks to the spread of e-commerce. The rate of new consumer-product launches is probably slowing or in decline. A crude gauge of production speed can be gained by looking at the inventories of industrial firms, which mainly comprise half-finished goods, or “work-in-progress”.The ratio of work-in-progress to sales points to a slowdown over the past decade (though if you exclude Boeing, an aircraft-maker, it is merely flat).Information technology is ever more embedded in customer’s lives.More firms use contracts and accounting systems with “mark-to-market” prices, exposing themselves to rapid changes that long-term contracts used to smooth over.A CUSTOMER downloads an app from Apple every millisecond.The firm sells 1,000 i Phones, i Pads or Macs every couple of minutes.Others worry about the things they may do in the attempt.
For evidence look no further than the “unicorns”—highflying startups—which can win billion-dollar valuations within a year or two of coming into being.If you ask the boss of any big American company what is changing his business, odds are he’ll say speed.Firms are born and die faster, it is widely claimed. Supply chains bristle to the instant commands of big-data feeds.Such hyperactivity in the world’s biggest company by market value makes it easy to believe that 21st-century business is pushing its pedals ever harder to the metal.On Apple’s home turf in Silicon Valley the idea that things are continually speeding up is a commonplace.
“We are putting a premium on speed,” said Jeff Immelt in his latest letter to the long-suffering shareholders of General Electric (GE).