Almost every well-known brand nowadays has an online counterpart. Within a blink of an eye, you can find virtually anything you need from products to service on the Internet without having to go through traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Globally, an increasing number of buyers are consuming more and more products than ever before, owing to the existence of such convenient and fast mean of retailing. Shopping online has become a trend nowadays for many customers worldwide and has also become the most promising means of retailing for many businesses, especially for clothing chains and other stores that sell daily necessities.
Seeing how it has become part of our daily life, one cannot help but wonder how it first started. Online shopping was invented and pioneered by Michael Aldrich in the UK. In 1979 he connected a modified domestic television via a telephone line to a real- time multi-user transaction-processing computer. He marketed the system from 1980 onwards and sold mainly Business-to-Business systems. The systems were installed in the UK, Ireland and Spain. These applications and others migrated to the Internet in the 1990s although some of Aldrich’s systems were still in use in 2000.There were only two Business-to-Consumer projects in the 1980s, both using the Aldrich system, Gateshead SIS with Tesco and, shortly afterwards, Bradford Centrepoint with Wm. Morrison. The two projects used supermarkets rather than warehouses for order fulfillment. They were social service experiments but later proved the concept of online grocery sales and home delivery. Business-to-Business online shopping was economically viable from the beginning but Business-to-Consumer online shopping was not financially viable until the widespread use of PCs and the Internet in the 1990s. In the same period of time, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web server and browser leading the basic online shops to a whole new level (Aldrich).
In 1994 Jeff Bezos started Amazon, which later on became one of the largest online retailers in the world. At first, selling books online was a curious idea to a lot of people. Why would you buy a textbook online when you can go to a bookstore? But eventually, when competitive prices and wide range of selection came into consideration, many people changed their minds. What if reading was your ultimate hobby and you couldn’t find that one book you had been looking for? The Internet would be a solution. Or when the books required for your class were so expensive in the stores, the Internet would definitely be your ultimate alternative.
Owing to the introduction of Secure Sockets Layer in 1994 that allowed communication security over the Internet, customers felt more comfortable than ever to use their credit card information online. So comfortable that during the same year, people claimed the use of online shopping increased by 2300 percent. By 1998, there were 750,000 commercial sites on the World Wide Web. From the timeline, we are beginning to see how the Internet would bring about significant changes to the existing industry. Traveling, for instance, is easier because we are able to compare different airlines and hotels and get the cheapest fares and accommodation.
This would be a difficult task for individuals before the existence of online shopping. Today, most brick-and-mortar stores have an online counterpart. With faster connection and better technology, the sector has been able to grow and gain popularity. Despite the current economic recession, online retail in the U.S. grew 11% in 2009, according to a March 2010 report from Forrester Research. More than 150 million people — about two-thirds of all Internet users in the U.S. — bought something online last year. It’s a staggering leap for an industry used by 27% of the nation’s online population a decade ago (Aldrich). So what is it that makes customers prefer online shopping? Why is it such a popular mean of retailing? The following are some advantages that it has to offer.
In comparison to a brick and mortar store with fixed hours, online shoppers can choose any time of the day or night to get on the Web and shop. This is especially useful for moms with small children, people that are physically unable to leave their homes, or simply in times of inclement weather. In addition, you do not have to wait in a line or wait till the shop assistant is ready to help you with your purchases. You can do your shopping in minutes even if you are busy apart from saving time and avoiding crowds. Online shops give us the opportunity to purchase products and services 24/7 and also reward us with a ‘no pollution’ shopping. There is no better place to buy information products like e-books, immediately after the payment is made one can download the information. And downloadable items purchased online eliminate the need for any kind of material goods at all.
When you visit a store, you most likely have to settle for whatever price the vendor has placed on a particular item. This is not so with online shopping – you have the ability to compare prices from hundreds of different vendors, which would be the most beneficial situation for most people. The cheap deals and better prices you get from online stores and products come to you directly from the manufacturer or seller without middlemen involved. Also, many online shops offer discount coupons and rebates.
Another reason to shop online would stem from the infinite choices it offers. Shelf space in brick and mortal stores is limited, which means that your variety of goods is limited. But this doesn’t apply to the online stores. If you don’t see what you want in one store online, you can simply move on to the next one – you’ve got all the power to do that!
In addition, you can get in on the latest international trends without spending money on airfare. No matter where you are, you can get access to the latest fashion trends even if they are in other parts of the world. Yes, online shopping has never been limited by geographic area. Online stores also offer a far greater selection of colors and sizes than you will find locally. Apart from that, how many times have you felt so regretful because you were not fast enough and your favorite clothes were sold out? Some online shops have a provision to accept orders without stock and ship it across to you when the stock becomes available.
It’s easy to access consumer reviews for pretty much any product you can think of online, which makes for more informed purchases. How many times have you considered whether or not to buy an item, whether you are online or offline? By seeing online reviews from other customers about a certain products, you can have some certain feedback in mind to decide. Last but not least, there would be no pressure sales when it comes to doing online shopping. You don’t have to put up with an angry salesperson when you are online. Anyone would love to avoid crowds when shopping, especially during
Festivals and Special events; the crowds can really cause headaches. Crowds force us to shop quickly most of the time. From a personal point of view, grumpy or irritating people are a huge turn off. Crowds also create a problem when it comes to finding a parking place nearby when you want to shop and go back to your vehicle later while loaded with shopping bags.
Despite the numerous advantages, there are drawbacks that come from the anonymity of online shopping. One such drawback is the inability to physically see the item before purchasing it. This is especially a problem when shopping for clothes online. Different stores have different sizing charts and many times these sizing charts are not readily available. Also, online shopping has given rise to a new type of advertisement. Storeowners can edit photos of their goods and post them online. These photos can be very misleading because they are meant to make the product look as good as possible. Online shopping consumers have nothing to go on but these photos and are sometimes disappointed when their product arrives in the mail.
Interestingly enough, although an advantage of online shopping is that the consumer can avoid long lines and huge crowds, it is also a disadvantage. The Internet has given rise to a new type of social interaction. It is no longer necessary for two people to meet in person in order to socialize. In previous decades, malls and department stores were a great place to meet people. Now, it is no longer necessary to leave the safety of one’s own home. This can lead to social isolation, which is especially dangerous in children. Andrea Crockett conducted a social experiment in which she compared the interactions between children who were raised in a more “social” environment and the interactions of children who are more dependent on technology to communicate. She concluded that isolation at an early age could lead to emotional burdens, which prevent children from forming emotional bonds with others (Crockett). Online shopping supports this isolation. Technology is getting more and more readily available everyday, and the Internet is no exception. Children are learning how to use the Internet at a young age in order to “get ahead” of their peers. It is not strange, therefore, for a child to take an interest in online shopping. Such an interest in this type of “social” interaction may not be healthy in the
A rising threat is the threat of online security. There is a reason PayPal was bought by eBay for 1.5 billion dollars. When shopping online, the consumer is readily putting his or her identity out in the open as well as their bank account information. Most stores will ensure their customers’ privacy. However, there is the chance that the consumer has spyware on his or her computer, which is by no means the fault of the stores. However, typing in account and personal information into an online store while using a computer that’s spyware-infested will usually lead to identity theft.
In other cases, there is no security that comes from buying an item online. Some websites will claim to be legitimate shopping websites, but end up being scams. There are many websites that imitate popular clothing brands in order to steal money from an unknowing consumer. Other times, there are legitimate websites that claim to have the lowest prices around, but sell low quality items. In another case, it is possible for a website or a computer to crash at the wrong moment. In this case, the consumer will have entered their credit card information and have sent in the payment, but do not receive any items in return. It is very difficult in these cases to ask for a refund because of the complications that arise from technical issues.
As mentioned earlier, consumer reviews are one of the advantages that help customers decide whether or not to buy a certain product. However, research has shown that reviews and ratings can be organized into a J-shaped chart. Researchers have found that 50% of the reviews on Amazon give a product a rating of either one star or five stars and almost no ratings in between (Mackiewicz). Reviewers have a tendency to only write reviews for items that they have strong emotional reason to review. In many circumstances, they are negative ones coming from jilted customers trying to cause trouble or aggrieved individuals or even expert reviewers with conflict of interests. This creates a misleading impression on other buyers who have intentions to buy, but are greatly affected by such negative reviews. There are also negative reviews with hidden agendas. These aren’t involved emotional emotions like the previous one; these reviews involve profit. Such negative comments likely come from competitors such as companies that are doing the same business or it may come from competing brands.
Fairly said, shopping online has its own advantages and disadvantages and, undeniably, it has caused such a strong impact on customers and on businesses themselves. Nowadays, more people have changed their consumer preference from the traditional mode to the electrical mode and vice versa. Consumers often use the Internet to search for product information before buying items online or offline. Many people today have the tendency to go online to view shopping sites, prices, and such to compare products. They then proceed to leave the sites altogether and then possibly go look for products in stores to get the “feel” of the products that they wanted to purchase.
Businesses are merging the two means together for the ease and convenience of their customers as well as for the sake of their business. Customers are now able to order products online and have them delivered when they are at stores or they can purchase goods and products online and come to stores and pick them up. In addition, counter parts are trying to improve their services by learning commutatively from each other. For example traditional shopping malls provide more parking spaces, more counters, and are close to residential areas in order to improve service and convenience; Internet shopping malls adopt virtual realty and 3D technology to improve the presentation of their products (Zheng).
In conclusion, online shopping caused a strong impact on both customers and businesses. Even though there may be certain disadvantages due to the lack of presentation and security, one cannot deny the fact that online retail is beneficial; it has created an era of expediency, ease and comfort to both buyers and retailers.
Courtney from Study Moose
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