Online Shopping Is Overrated
Data security problems and pesky online forms make Internet shopping a pain. Pro or Con?
Pro: Just Drive to the Store Instead
Online shopping is mostly a bad experience. Even the best of the online stores are pretty awful when compared with real-world brick-and-mortar shops.
In a physical store you are not asked to register before you are allowed buy anything. Neither do you have to read a “terms and conditions” agreement before you can go through checkout. In a real-world store, you don’t have to run through a list of payment options first and give your name and address and all your contact details.
Online stores ask us to do all these things. As a result, people actually dislike shopping online and use it for only two reasons—convenience and to find deals. A survey by the British pollsters YouGov found that half the people who do shop online are prepared to give up buying once they get to the checkout. If that happened in a physical store, the management would be sacked without debate. Online store owners just seem to accept it.
The high rate of shopping cart abandonment is a warning signal to Internet retailers that their customers don’t like their stores. Furthermore, a deep fear over the security of credit card details continues to plague shoppers. Online retailers are not addressing the key issues: making the shopping experience more convenient and ensuring the security of the information we give them. Until they do that, online shopping will continue to be second-rate.
Con: The Online Experience Is Improving
During the dot-com bubble, the Internet was seen as something that was going to change everything, with the traditionalist dinosaurs becoming extinct overnight and the new kids dominating the new economy.
Some years on, much of the hype has turned into dust. But the online revolution is still firmly, if quietly, under way. Since the dot-com crash of 2000, online retail shopping has grown by 210%, at an average annual rate of 21%, and accounted for a $130 billion market in 2008, according to comScore. The trend is set to continue: In the fourth quarter of 2008 online sales grew at 41 of the 50 largest U.S. chains, while their in-store sales declined.
The reasons for this inexorable growth can be summed up in one word: convenience.
For a whole category of purchases, it is simply easier and faster to buy online, and prices are often lower. Comparing prices, finding discounts and promotions, having your loyalty rewarded, and not having to travel to get the exact product you want are saving money in the downturn. But above all we love the convenience.
Also, sometimes we don’t want to have a salesperson hassling us. We want to do independent research, read reviews, and stay in control of the process.
This shows, too, in our intolerance for anything but good service online. Painful online checkout processes are met by abandoned shopping carts. And we like the freedom to switch at the click of a mouse. It keeps the retailers honest—that’s why they offer their best prices online.