"We are facing worldwide and chronic overcapacity in just about every industry," says Michael Hammer, author of The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade and a management consultant who originated the concept of re-engineering. "We've got more cars, steel, computers, movie seats, optical fiber … than anyone knows what to do with."

In the practical language of business, excess supply means that customers will be calling the shots for the foreseeable future. Many customers will continue buying by price so some companies will need to become even more aggressive in slashing costs. Because heavy emphasis was placed on reducing production costs during the 1990s, the cost-cutting measures holding the most promise today may be along the periphery (e.g., in the way business is conducted with customers and suppliers).

But Hammer warns that competing on price won't be for everyone. "If you compete on price alone, it's very hard to be profitable. How easy we make life for customers will be more critical than ever. If we can solve all their problems, many customers will pay more."

Hammer says attention to customers goes far beyond friendly service. Businesses must evaluate all aspects of their customer interface - for instance, can ordering be made simpler, is the packaging easy to deal with, are the invoices simple, are the instructions accurate and easy, do customer questions get answered quickly? "In a customer economy it pays to solve all headaches," says Hammer.

Meanwhile, Faith Popcorn feels consumers are seriously suspicious of corporate motives, sales pitches, and corporate bigwigs and that many purchasing decisions in the age of oversupply will be linked to the moral code of the companies producing goods and services. Investors may want to be making decisions along these lines as well because corporations that do the right thing environmentally/socially, that deliver what they promise, and that rise above avarice will win customer loyalty.