A former teacher of digital media studies in the UK, Paul now lives and works as a freelance writer in Florida, USA.
Internet shopping has revolutionized the retail trade over the past 20 years or so, both for consumers and vendors. The internet currently accounts for around 10% of retail sales in the USA, and this number continues to rise.
Many products can be found for a more affordable price online, and having the product delivered to your door can be very convenient. However, critics note the packaging waste, time, and cost delay caused by delivery and the possible problems that occur when buyers can't see or touch the product in person or communicate face-to-face with a retailer before buying.
As e-commerce is becoming such an important part of many peoples' lives, I thought it would be interesting and useful to list the relative merits and downsides of this still relatively recent phenomenon.
The 7 Main Benefits of Shopping Online
You can shop from the comfort of your own home, your workplace, or virtually anywhere. All you need is a device to search for and view the products that you are interested in (usually a computer, tablet, or smartphone), plus some form of internet access, and a convenient address where you can receive the goods that you order.
You have a maximum amount of choice when buying products via the internet. You are not limited to what an individual store sells or stocks. If a product exists, then you will almost certainly be able to buy it online somewhere, and often you will also get options of purchasing a product that is in a used condition, as well as new.
3. International Availability
As well as internal markets, shopping online gives you access to international goods. If you can't find the right product in your home country, then you can look abroad.
4. Prices Comparisons and Reviews
You have easy access to price comparisons and reviews of the products that you are interested in buying. You can also easily compare prices at different vendors.
5. Relaxed Decision Making
There is no pressure from a salesperson when shopping online. You can proceed at your own pace, researching when necessary, without anyone pushing you into anything.
6. Financial Organization
It can be easier to keep records of what you have bought. Emailed receipts are often harder to lose than the paper version.
Last, but not least, another plus point is that you can often get some great bargains by buying this way. Big retailers often price products cheaper online than they do in their bricks and mortar stores. Many items can also be bought at bargain prices through online auction sites such as eBay. There are plenty of coupons, and other types of special offers out there.
The 8 Main Downsides of Shopping Online
1. Time Delay
There is always a time delay in receiving your purchase while you wait for it to be delivered. Buy it in a brick and mortar store and you can take it home with you straightaway.
2. Product Problems
There may be potential problems with the seller when you buy online. They can describe a product wrongly, or in a way that is misleading, as they have almost total control over how a product is portrayed. They may also be more difficult to communicate with than your local store.
Retailers can also use methods regarding the pricing of products that many buyers can find underhand. For instance, a product can be displayed at a certain price online, only for excessive shipping, or other costs, to be added later on in the buying process.
You can have problems with delivery when ordering a product online - either it arrives broken, or it doesn't arrive at all. This may happen only rarely, but it can be very frustrating and time-consuming when it does occur.
5. It's Impersonal
There is very little scope for building any sort of rapport with the seller when you go to buy a product online. This makes the process very impersonal. There is no shop owner or employee to give you specialist advice, help, or tips. Neither is there generally someone to give you follow up help in person, should you have any problems with your product.
6. It's Too Easy
There are all sorts of potential psychological and emotional problems associated with the ease with which people can buy online. Impulsive buying, addiction, overspending, and debt-related issues can all be exacerbated. Also, it is easier for people to buy products when intoxicated, or for children to purchase unwanted items using their parent's credit cards and online accounts without permission.
Fraud and identity theft are a constant threat when buying over the internet. There are also major issues concerning the privacy of the data that is supplied to retailers by buyers.
8. No Contact With Products
You can't try out the product in advance, when you buy online. Neither can you touch a product, or see it close up with your own eyes. This can be a considerable disadvantage when it comes to certain types of products, for example: clothing.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is online shopping safe?
Answer: Generally speaking, yes online shopping is safe. There are some security issues that the user/buyer needs to be aware of, and some that the store/website is responsible for. The user/buyer should make sure that their computer software and operating system is up to date, that they have an effective firewall and anti-virus, passwords are secure, and that they don't give out their card information without being reasonably sure that it is secure (e.g., the URL should usually start with "https" when you proceed to checkout, also be wary of giving out info over the phone unless you are confidence in the company you're dealing with). Even if you are defrauded, you may well be able to get your money back via your bank in some circumstances. The store/website should have provisions for keeping the user's personal and payment information secure, there have been some high profile cases where this hasn't happened, but the system usually works. I personally have been shopping online for many years and not had any issues. It's important to be aware that in most circumstances, your card information is probably less secure when you pay in a restaurant, than when you pay online.
© 2013 Paul Goodman
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