To determine peoples’ online shopping habits, I interviewed 34 people in person, over the phone, and by Internet e-mail (which fits well with the topic). My base questions were: 1) Do you shop online? 2) How much do you buy and spend online? 3) Do you shop online in addition to or in place of your normal purchases? 4) If you shop online, why do you shop online? If you don’t, then why don’t you? 5) Do you have any other thoughts, comments, or stories about shopping on the Internet? I made the final question open-ended to allow respondents to share their personal feelings and to spur on additional conversation.
28 of the 34 people I interviewed had made online purchases, while 6 had not. Of those 28 Internet shoppers, 14 generally shopped in addition to their normal purchases while only 6 used Internet shopping to replace their mall shopping. The other 8 showed elements of both or were not sure. The open-ended question spurred many people to tell what they love and hate about Internet shopping, helping me outline online shopping’s benefits and detriments. Question 2, regarding the amount people spent online, helped me most in determining if Internet shopping is replacing mall shopping.
Why Do Consumers Choose to Shop Online?
But why do consumers choose to shop online? My fieldwork and my research discovered many reasons why shoppers are choosing the Internet over the mall.
Convenience is Key
An overwhelming majority of the Internet shoppers I interviewed cited convenience as their main reason for Internet shopping. While only a few of these people actively dislike going to malls, 11 people mentioned preferring the Internet because it is more convenient than the mall.
Wall Street Journal editor Chris Gay believes the Internet makes shopping “a whole lot easier. Perhaps too easy.” He argues that Internet shopping is so convenient that it can ruin compulsive spenders. His claims appear accurate since most of the shoppers I interviewed prefer the Internet’s convenience to the mall.
Malls usually close in the early evening, but Internet stores are “open” 24 hours a day. According to analysis of 2 million Internet shopping trips, done by Fry Multimedia, most Internet transactions occur between 7 P.M. and midnight. I doubt it is a coincidence that Internet sales are high when malls are closed. Many of the college students I interviewed sited lack of time as a reason for shopping online. The Internet offers an alternative for people who cannot shop during traditional store hours.
One of the shoppers I interviewed told me he was “too lazy to go to the store” and therefore preferred the convenience of the Internet. Other interviewees saw the Internet as a time-saver because it eliminates a trip to the mall. Because Internet purchases are virtually always in stock and that purchases are delivered straight to the home, fieldwork respondents believe the Internet more convenient than the mall.
Cut Out the Middleman
6 of the shoppers interviewed prefer the Internet because it offers lower prices than stores. The Internet essentially eliminates the “middle man” who normally takes a portion of profits. In general, most Internet stores have better prices because they eliminate the buildings or people that drive costs up.
The Rare Becomes Common
Another 5 respondents shop on the Internet to find items that cannot be found in stores. Because its stores can be located anywhere in the world, the Internet has a wider selection of items than even the largest mall. One interview respondent has wide feet and has a son who wears size 14 shoes. Because stores in malls rarely carry these sizes, and usually raise the prices for these rare shoes, she buys shoes on the Internet. Because of the Internet, she has a wide selection to choose from and can “even find sales” for her hard to find specialty shoes. Another respondent shops online for her rare collectors items, specifically Monkees and A-Team Viewmaster slides. She could spend days searching in vain for these products in malls, but she can find them relatively easily online.
People also cited the Internet’s ubiquitous information as a reason to shop online. Amazon, one of the Internet’s largest “stores,” has a section for shoppers to write reviews on specific products. The third ranked reviewer on Amazon, Rebecca Johnson, has written 1,241 product reviews and spends three to four hours per day writing reviews. She also refuses to accept payments for her services. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has written 87 reviews. Another web site, Epinions, is also offers product opinions. I personally have written 29 Epinion reviews that have been visited 1,840 times. The Internet has a seemingly endless supply of reviews on virtually every product available.
What Do People Purchase Online?
The people I interviewed had purchased a wide array of goods online.
Books and Compact Discs
My fieldwork books and music are the most popular online items. Almost all of the people who had shopped on the Internet had purchased books or compact discs online. The advantages of buying books and compact discs online were not clear to my Internet shoppers, so it is likely that these are impulse purchases.
People I interviewed also purchase tickets online. They found it more convenient to buy sporting event, movie, and concert tickets online than to make a special trip to the box office. When it is time to attend, the tickets can be picked up at the event. One person’s life became more convenient when she paid her speeding ticket online.
Interviewees also mentioned vacations as good online purchases. These people had purchased airfare and hotels online. Aside from convenience, people booked vacations online because they could compare prices and utilize the Internet’s information on specific hotels and airlines.
One would probably think that computers are rarely purchased on the Internet because they are required to shop online in the first place. However, my field work showed the opposite. Two of the people I interviewed had actually purchased computers online.
Internet shopping tends to increase in October. My fieldwork showed that many people used the Internet for their holiday shopping, especially to find special and rare gifts. One interviewee mentioned web sites where people post “online wish lists” from which people can purchase their gifts. This and other conveniences make online shopping more appealing during the hectic holiday season.
Clothing is the final item bought by people I interviewed. Interestingly, only one male even mentioned clothing. One female claimed to purchase four articles of clothing online each week because the Internet saves her time. She represents the minority of clothing shoppers in my fieldwork, most of whom prefer to buy clothes in the mall even if they were avid Internet shoppers. One female mentioned, “It takes the average woman 10 attempts to find jeans that fit well,” and predicted Internet shopping will never replace malls for jean shopping. Despite improvements in online clothes shopping, people will likely continue purchasing clothes in malls.
While the majority (82.3% in my survey) of people have shopped online, very few shop online consistently. Excluding those who had made big-ticket purchases, most people I interviewed spent between $50-$200 per year. This is a small portion of their entire spending. Aside from not being able to try on jeans, there are many reasons people haven’t completely partaken in the Internet shopping revolution.
The most common reason is that shoppers need to own credit cards to shop online. While improvements like PayPal eliminate the credit card requirement by allowing people to transfer money to an electronic account from their banks, the Internet still is cashless and generally requires a credit card.
Many non-Internet shoppers told me they were afraid to make purchases online. These people have reason to fear the Internet. According to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, “nearly 6,000 complainants claimed they lost money due to fraud on nonauction sites, totaling $15.7 million” in 2001.
Another problem with online shopping is that it can be addictive. While the people I interviewed did not specifically mention this problem, the majority admitted their Internet shopping was in addition to their mall purchases, not in place of them.