The Best of Online Shopping:
|The Best of Online Shopping||
Excerpt: Attention, Online Shoppers!
Web stores are transforming the way we shop. Online sales seem poised to bring about as big a transformation to the retail business as mail-order catalogs and department stores did; because of the rapid growth of Web sales. A Harvard historian, Nancy Koehn, expects that Web stores will outsell mail-order catalogs within three years.
Why do people shop the web?
Recent surveys show were all getting cozy with the concept because:
The trend is up!
People are pouring into the online stores. 81% of Web users plan to shop online during 1999, and, given the amounts they intend to spend, Intelliquest estimates that annual revenues will triple for these stores. By 2003, consumers may be spending $108 billion shopping online, while businesses will be shelling out $1.3 trillion, according to estimates by Forrester Research.
Certainly a booming U.S. economy has accelerated this trend, as have secure online transaction safeguards, and endless publicity. But the biggest change is that consumers are starting to feel safe about shopping online, and are coming to regard it as a convenience, like salad bars and delis in supermarkets, or 24-hour ATMs.
More people are shopping online
Here are some details on the growth of online shopping.
Fortune calculates that the online stores revenues rose during 1998 by huge percentages:
Stunning increases like those brought the total of consumer sales online in 1998 to more than $13 billion, by conservative estimates (from the Boston Consulting Group). To put that figure in perspective, though, it represents about 1% of total retail sales in the U.S., although, in certain periods, the percentage spiked to 4% (in the spring), and 10% (right after Thanksgiving), according to Marketing Corporation of America.
In addition to purchasing online, people are doing research on the Web, then going to a physical store to buy. Automakers estimate that in the first half of 1998, they sold $10 billion in cars to consumers who chose a dealer on the Web.
But people still have some trouble shopping online
Unhappiness has grown. In mid-1998, only about 12 percent of shoppers said they felt dissatisfied. But during the 1998 holiday season, that figure rose to 26% of all online shoppers, according to a survey by Jupiter and NFO Interactive. Asked why, Nicole Vanderbilt, an analyst at Jupiter, said, "They quantified what we suspected, which is that with the unbelievable and, in many ways, unexpected growth in the amount of business online, quality suffered as a result of quantity." Echoing that opinion, a survey of 33,000 online shoppers by BizRate showed that the most unhappy customers were those who ordered between December 4th and December 22nd, because they experienced delays in delivery from stores that had not anticipated the sudden volume of traffic.
There are a lot of stores out there, but only a few are well run. The majority are inconvenient for most consumers , because the owners have not put enough effort into informing visitors, helping them around, and making shopping easy. An Internet market analyst, Shelley Taylor, recently surveyed 50 online stores in a cross-section of industries, and came away convinced that many stores make it hard to find products, hard to move from one department to another, hard to find out how to order. About a third of her sample told the consumer almost nothing about the products. Her report, at http://www.infofarm.com confirms our own analysis of almost 8,000 sites, most of which we rejected as sub-par, or downright annoying. (Our book picks out the best stores, so you can skip the mediocre and crummy sites.)
The biggest hassle for consumers is threading their way through the giant search mechanisms, which yield so many hits that the average person gives up after trying only the first ten or twenty. We remedy this situation by culling out the businesses that we think you will really want to visit. Using our book, we contend, will help you get over the Alta Vista blues, avoiding 9,999 dud hits, and zipping to the right address right away.
But once you reach an average, or worse-than-average online store, you still face a lot of challenges:
The other leading constraint on online shopping is nervousness about using a credit card online. Only 52% of the current shoppers felt completely confident about that, according to a recent Ernst & Young study. We devote some of our Answers to Frequently Asked Questions to security, to show where the problems could lie, to highlight efforts that online merchants have made to secure transactions and to point out that statistically, shopping in a local small business puts you at far greater risk than shopping on the Web.
Our book guides you to the best Web stores
No more duds. No more brochures pretending to be stores. No more sleazo discounters. We have gone to more than 8,000 sites, and rejected most of them. We have picked the best stores, using a tough set of criteria. We favor a store if it offers most of these services:
Of course, not every site in our book manages to do all these things well, but to qualify for our book, a site has to be outstanding in many of these areas.
So, welcome to our book! We hope we can help you find great products online, explore some fascinating sites, discover amazing bargains, and get what you want, fast. Oh, and one other thing: With these stores, we think youre going to have a heck of a lot of fun!
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Copyright 1999 Jonathan and Lisa Price, The Communication Circle
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