Internet shopping: the new retail?

04 Apr 2004|Added Value

When internet shopping first came on the scene many people thought it would replace the need for bricks and mortar shops, however, consumers continue to love the whole experience of being in a shop. A website can never replicate the multi-sensory experience of being in a store smelling, touching and seeing in 3D the goods you can purchase, neither can it replace the entertainment and social value of a trip to the mall.

However where the shopping experience is less multi-sensory and the products being bought are more or less one dimensional e.g. books and music CDs the internet is increasingly the purchase point of choice. Amazon.com is one of the most successful businesses on the web.

As we increasingly buy data rather than hard goods (an MP3 file in place of a CD for example) the internet will more and more be our first and possibly only port of call

There is something exciting about receiving your goods in a parcel delivered to you door, a bit like a Christmas present you can buy yourself at any time of the year.

Where online shopping comes into its own is when it facilitates a marketplace that couldn’t otherwise exist, for example E-bay allows an SA camera fanatic to buy antique Russian cameras direct from Russia, cutting out the middle man and getting access to items he’d rarely find in his own country.

E-bay has opened up a whole new way of buying and selling which feels closer to old style barter systems than the modern day mall experience. Prices are based on individual perceptions of how much something is worth rather than set values. For example an old clock that I wouldn’t pay more than R50 for could in fact be worth 10 times that to someone who needs that particular clock to complete their collection and will bid over the odds to get it.

E-bay has some quite strict codes of conduct. If a seller mis-describes or fails to send a product then they will be instantly black listed and the message that they are unreliable will spread quickly across various user groups. If you are going to buy something off the internet it is always a good idea to find out what security measures and guarantees are in place before you put in your credit card details.

It is probably a good idea to take a quick sense check before you buy anything on the internet, is this something I really want or is it just that I am bored, it’s late at night and the shops are shut? The internet can offer our most whimsical retail impulses instant satisfaction 24 hours a day which some would say is not such a great thing. It can be difficult to change your mind about an item and send it back unless you’ve checked out what the returns policy is before hand. Waking up the next morning and realising you spent a month’s salary on CDs because there was nothing good on TV is never a nice feeling.

The internet has empowered consumers. It is a great medium for researching and comparing different deals you can get without trawling from shop to shop, there are even sites now especially dedicated to comparing prices and sourcing the best deal for you. Manufacturers will find it increasingly difficult to overcharge when their consumers can get on the net and shop around.

There are even examples of internet sites where people can club together and ‘bulk buy’ as it were in order to bring prices down ‘www.letsbuyit.com’ is a good example.

The internet is a great tool for people who really don’t enjoy or have time to go through the whole shopping experience. To have your groceries waiting on your doorstep when you arrive home from work is a dream for a busy working mum.

By Izzy Pugh, Semiotics analyst, Added Value UK, written for South African Fairlady Magazine

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