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The Digital Skeptic: Bricks and Mortar No Easy Answer for Web Retailers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Gary Allen likes to know the story behind stuff -- like how tech giants plan on copying Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) retail store success.

"It's definitely gotta be a touch-it kind of product for a store to matter," Allen explained to me on the phone. "If it's just another screen or phone, no matter what the store is, who is going to care?"

Allen is a singularly unique Apple expert. A Berkeley, Calif.-based retired 911 emergency dispatcher, Allen has become fascinated -- dare I say obsessed -- with prying into the black box that is the Apple Store.

As Allen tells it, he wandered into the opening of store No. 9 back in 2001, started a blog about the experience called ifoapplestore.com -- for people crazed enough to line up "In Front Of" an Apple Store to get in. And then has spent two to three hours a day, entirely unpaid, publishing essentially a post a day that digs ridiculously deep into Apple Inc.'s retail store financials, news and strategy.

"I'm interested in the topic," he said dryly.

If investors take the time to take a tour of this labor of retail love, they'll realize what an analysis anchor property Allen has become. Day by day, year by year, most every single piece of Apple retail news is dissected, whether it be midyear openings of stores in Berlin or Sweden or how the Brazil store will be the first location ever in the southern hemisphere. And don't forget the pristine spreadsheets that break out the unit performance of the retail operations. They are worth bookmarking all by themselves.

The summer for bricks and mortar
What makes Allen especially investor-worthy this summer is that 2013 is shaping up to be the year traditional bricks and mortar will play a central role in selling hot new consumer tech.

Never mind that this about-face makes every pure-play Web outfit look preposterous, but no less than Web oligarch Google (GOOG) is making a dramatic push into real-world retail selling with store openings reportedly set for this year in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Beleaguered software maker Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) also announced last week that it would follow Samsung's 1,400 Samsung Experience Shops, with mini shops also inside Best Buy (BBY - Get Report). Start-ups are also sensing live retail is hot. Among many, a former Amazon (AMZN) exec named Nadia Shouraboura is starting a blended online and retail store called Hointer.

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