Here's an interesting idea -- MacNN is reporting that Apple is working on new ways to improve online shopping. Apparently the biggest music seller in the US thinks that online shopping can feel "sterile and isolating." Hmm.
To counteract the isolation, Apple is reportly considering showing customers where other shoppers are in the virtual stores, and maybe even letting customers interact while shopping, via chat or other interfaces. This system would also allow for storewide announcements of special events or sales going down.
It's quite a concept -- online store as virtual space -- but the fact for me as a consumer is that I shop online mostly to avoid exactly those things (chatting with less knowledgeable customers and annoying store loudspeaker systems). Even if this idea makes it through the gauntlet and we see this type of thing in Apple's online shopping environments, I doubt the old methods of clicking and browsing by yourself are going away anytime soon.