In a vast ballroom at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator from the musical Million Dollar Quartet is doing his best to pump up the crowd. It’s 2 p.m. on an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in February, only about half the seats are filled, and truth be told, there is not a whole lot of shakin’ going on — more like a moderate amount of somewhat engaged sitting. But the fact that there’s a crowd here at all, and that it’s not completely unwilling to belt out a chorus when directed by the faux Lewis — or by the other rock ’n’ roll replicants on stage, who include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins – stands as a genuine accomplishment.

 

That’s because the crowd is made up of car salesmen, and… More…

The web retailer Zappos gives you 365 days to return or exchange any item it sells, and applies no additional shipping or restocking fees when you do so. LL Bean allows you to return or exchange any item “at any time” if you are no longer 100 per cent satisfied with it, and it applies only a $6.50 shipping fee for this privilege. Under such generous, flexible, friction-fee terms, when shipping and restocking fees are eliminated, when return labels are provided beforehand, when receipts aren’t necessarily required for verification, every product a retailer offers essentially becomes a gift card that can be used to purchase any other product in its line.

 

In theory, of course, a gift card says, “I understand your virtues are so rich and complex, your tastes so refined, that only you yourself can be… More…