Contributed by Stephane Marc Thomasse

Stephane Marc Thomasse

The internet was first developed in the 1960’s. After a series of meetings to discuss issues relating to the structure and implementation of the worldwide communication, Tim Berners-Lee introduced what we now commonly refer to as the internet existence on the 6th August 1991. With the internet and the developing communication system infrastructure across the globe came enormous business opportunities. What we now take for granted – Google, Facebook, YouTube, online newspapers and online shopping – were all invented because there was a suited platform for it. The internet has fundamentally changed society; from the way people interact with each other, to the way we hunt and process information, to the way we use banking, to the way government, corporations and the educational system runs. That includes we way we shop for groceries, clothes, electronic products and even purchase flight tickets. Online shopping is by definition a platform that allows consumers to make purchases online with the convenience of shopping from their own comfort. It’s commonly referred to as e-commerce, online retail, internet shopping or the virtual store and can be used on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In marketing terms, the process of online shopping involves a business-to-consumer (B2C) approach. The draconian increase in internet users over the years meant that there was a platform that signified business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Forrester Research has estimated internet sales in 1999 to have doubled in the space of a year – going from $10 billion in 1998 to $20 billion in 1999. This article is going to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of online shopping by presenting an overview of e-commerce as a whole.

The range of products displayed on the internet is unlike any other tangible store in the world. Walmart does not even come close to the variety and range the internet offers a consumer. Even if Walmart is classified as a ‘superbrand’ and has a huge online store, it cannot rival with what the internet has to offer. Take the population of Australia (which is roughly 23 million as of 2014) and compare it to the population of the USA (which is exceeding 300 million). That’s a conspicuous difference in size. Any product is available right from your fingertips. The real benefit of using online shopping is that searching for products is not confined or limited to a particular geographical area. A consumer living in Iceland has ability to buy a product from Australia at any given time of the day. This also translates to the business world. Any European, Asian or American company would have an online store. Why? Because it allowing an easier flow of communication, it opens up marketing channels for international corporations to expand their market and offers the opportunity to small business to grow worldwide. And the best of it all is that putting your product is virtually free. There are minimal costs to pay in order for a business to create and sustain a website. However it is miniscule in comparison to the business opportunities that can arise from the growth of potential customers. Online shopping is thus, not only a benefit for everyday individual consumers; it’s a platform that enables the consumers and business to co-exist.

Price is another major advantage. By having the whole world at your disposition individual consumers are able to search, investigate and compare retail prices to online prices giving them the ultimate edge to buy their desired product. The process is straight forward. Go on a website like getprice.com.au and you will be able to find any product with various website price comparisons. On some websites, there are even reviews of customers who have purchased the products. Below is an example of a price comparison of the Apple store and various other online websites. Thus people can easily save a fortune with a stroke of the keyboard. In the US the online shopping business accounted for $289 billion in 2012, an increase of $33 billion from the previous year according to Statista. A majority of the online revenue came from the online retail sector who cashed in a whopping $186 billion in 2012. Statista also predicted based on the current figures, that online retail revenue would exceed $360 billion in 2016.

Coupons are a growing business sector, existing as a result of the emergence of online shopping. A quick search on Google will list thousands of results for existing coupon sites. Stemming from the better prices available online, the ‘couponing’ business offers customers further reductions when buying products online. There’s a plethora of coupon sites that exists and whether you’re in Asia, America or in Europe, it does not matter. Online coupons are available to anyone. And that is one of the most conspicuous benefits of shopping online.

Another obvious benefit of online shopping is the convenience. The internet does not sleep. The WWW is a platform constantly connected across the globe and the benefit stems from the 24/7 access. Corporate businessmen don’t necessarily have time to go browse in a shopping malls for gifts. Instead they turn to online shopping where they can research, view and buy products on the go. At the office, at home or even on the train ride home – e-commerce makes it easy for anybody with an existing internet connection on a mobile device, tablet or computer to shop 24/7. According to an online shopping survey done by United Parcel Service, 70 percent of roughly 3,000 e-commerce shoppers prefer shopping online for retail.

Another advantage which comes hand-in-hand is that there’s nobody to look over your shoulder while you’re shopping (as opposed to in a store) and there’s no added pressure to purchase a product. And when a customer does need assistance, there is always an online chat with the staff. This service is generally limited to working hours, but there is always the option of e-mailing staff for inquiries about products. There are several reasons why customers prefer an online chat rather than face-to-face interaction; it’s faster (no queuing up for staff), easier to resolve issues with both parties using the internet, e-commerce customers can multi-task while waiting for their enquiries, and it’s is handy for people not interested to talk to staff members.

With the internet also come questions of security, fraud, illegal matters and convenience as well. Because the technology will never be fully secured, buying a product online always represents a risk. There are countless documentaries in the world that recount the story of online victims of credit card fraud because of purchases made over the internet. Even apparent secure online shopping websites like Amazon, EBay or PayPal aren’t shielded of attacks from ‘hackers’. When you shop online, your private information could potentially be stolen and used by hackers. Identity theft, fraud, bankruptcy – they can all destroy lives in many ways. Hackers could even sell your credit card details with buyers. Hence, even though online shopping offers so many benefits, some prefer to shop in store for security reasons. The most recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice showed credit card data theft had increased by a whopping 50 percent from 2005 to 2010. As a result, some people are less inclined to conduct online shopping. The probability of credit card fraud or identity theft as a result of online shopping also increases with every new purchase you make online. More frightening than the loss of hard-earned money is the loss of private information; your e-mail address, your home address, where your children go to school, when you’re on holidays. These events can occur if you become a victim of an online scam.

There thus exists several ways where you could become victim of credit card fraud. And one of the most common ones is as a result of you shopping on a fake website. With the increasing development in online technology, it is even easier for anybody to become a victim. There are many illegal and fake websites out there with the sole intention to steal your credit card information and use it maliciously. It’s now very hard to distinguish a fake website from a real one as they both equally look professional. Below are two images of websites. It’d be hard to tell which one is the real website simply because both of them are frauds.

 

Online shopping presents countless possibilities for customers looking for cheap bargains and convenient services. It’s available to anybody around the world with an active internet connection and is simple to use. There are however complex issues behind the technology that still make online shopping vulnerable and prone to serious crimes. Whether to use the internet as a source to shop rests on the onus of the individual, but being aware of the inherent risks is a smart move. There are no signs that advances in technology will make it a safer place to shop in the future. That being said, websites like Amazon and EBay are amongst the most secure e-commerce websites in the world and they remain quite secure as a whole. Play your cards right and you could save yourself a few hundred dollars, play your cards wrong and people might use your credit card to shop for luxurious items.


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