The coming of age with Internet shopping
By Sarah Cresswell
You spot them in your monthly fashion magazine. Flicking through the pages, you suddenly do a double take at the ‘Topshop sale’ double spread. Your eyes pop out, your heart rate increases and the all-over goosebumps confirm that, yes, those sensational shoes you have loved for so long are finally on sale.
Giddy with excitement having raced into town, you burst through the doors of Topshop and enquire (with a voice that sounds like you’ve had one too many inhalations of helium), about the must-have bargain.
“Sold out this morning I’m afraid. You might have had more luck buying them online?”
It is undeniable that shopping online would have saved you the hassle and disappointment of this unsuccessful trip. You would have had first pick at the reduced items as soon as they went online, and you could have checked via the website if your local store had them in stock. For reasons like these it is no wonder that we are all turning to the ‘World Wide Web’ to mend our broken shopaholic hearts.
Although first launched in the mid 90s, it wasn’t until the millennium that ‘eCommerce’ really took off; growing over 210% since 2000 (comSCOR – Businessweek.com). This increase was partly due to the development of technology, but also because our modern, hectic lifestyles leave us with little spare time for weekend-long shopping sprees. As a result, the popularity of Internet shopping has skyrocketed, and it’s not difficult to see why we love it so much…
What we like is the convenience. As long as there is Internet access, you could be on the train, in a café or lying in bed, and still you have all your favourite shops right at your fingertips. There’s no need to drive anywhere or worry about ridiculous parking prices, and a few clicks of your mouse are so much quicker (and less effort!) than traipsing round the mall.
Limited shop opening hours make it impossible to fit shopping into a working weekday, but via the net, the shop doors never close – online is always ON. So instead of trawling the high street your entire Saturday, worrying over whether your boyfriend’s parents would prefer the Fawlty Towers themed tea cosy or the miniature bonsai (‘who wouldn’t want a bonsai?!’, you think), and then whether you could get them cheaper elsewhere, you can simply return home after Monday’s late-night meeting, kick back on the sofa, and ‘surf’ away instead. Simple.
And if after receiving the adorable bonsai you found for a bargain online, you think that just maybe these tiny trees are for an acquired taste after all, then there’s no hassle in having to return to the store for a refund. Internet shopping offers the far easier option of simply posting the item back to the sender.
In 2006 we spent £30bn online for Christmas, and last year this rose to a whopping £38bn (4psmarketing.com), so it seems we’re all having the same idea.
“What could be better?” asks Sophie, 22, from Cheltenham, “I can sit at home when it’s pouring with rain, in my pyjamas, with everything I need on my laptop. I can even save the WebPages and go back to them after making dinner or watching a film, and that’s something that regular shopping will never be able to offer me!”
So far, it all sounds like a dream doesn’t it.
Clare, 27, from Bristol however, thinks otherwise – “It’s a nightmare, I’ve tried it but it always seems more hassle than it’s worth. I can’t try on clothes just by looking at them, so I have no idea whether they fit until they are delivered. It’s impossible to check the quality of materials by a picture either.”
It’s true that unfortunately, there are a few unavoidable drawbacks to purchasing online. Credit card fraud is a continuous problem, though companies are working hard to make sites as safe and secure as possible. Linked to this is the risk of disclosing personal and private details on to the Internet, where inevitably, they could be leaked.
“I used to think I saved money by not driving to the mall, but if I buy items from just two different shops, the separate delivery costs are even more than the price of parking” says Clare. “I’d rather just go to the actual store and get the items myself.”
Often first-class delivery is pricey, so if you’re desperate to buy something quickly, you have to pay for the privilege of receiving it promptly, which is still not as immediate as buying in store.
And to be honest girls, there is something about browsing shops that we just can’t get enough of. We love to look and touch (but not buy!) the £500 Jimmy Choos, and flick through the latest season’s collections. There is nothing quite like being in store, in the flesh, to smell the new leather and try on the tester perfumes – it’s an experience that no laptop screen, however good the deals on it, will ever be able to replace.
“We want customers to really enjoy shopping here” assures James Cooper from Marks and Spencer’s online department, Cheltenham. “So whether visiting us in store or using our website, we aim to offer the highest quality shopping experience possible. We realise the intense competition between stores these days, and know that one of the best ways to ensure customer satisfaction is by focusing on convenience, which our website is able to provide.”
The opportunity to shop online has certainly changed the way we spend our time and our money. Don’t get me wrong, us girls would still never turn down a trip to Oxford Street, but even with its few flaws, it’s often easier, faster and cheaper to buy online – making life a whole lot simpler. So with the ‘shopping via search engine’ part under control, your only problem now is deciding who on earth to give the bonsai to.