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The Pros and Cons of Online Shopping

The Pros and Cons of Online ShoppingOnline shopping is becoming more and more popular each year as people embrace the convenience, selection, and low prices available when shopping online. In this article I speak to some of the pros and cons of online shopping.

There is something to be said for walking into a physical store and being able to see, touch, and easily ask questions about a product. One could argue that brick and mortar shopping is a more engaging experience, often filled with background music of some sort, along with the sights and sounds of other customers and clerks available to provide assistance when needed. Different products can be compared side by side with very little effort. One benefit of brick and mortar shopping is its organization, which allows one to locate the right department and the right shelf pretty easily. Everything the store offers is made available via a layout of straight-forward, logical departments. Online sites provide an organizational layout and text search capability, but this different way of locating a product of interest is one online shopping difference that takes some getting used to. Other benefits of brick front shopping is being able to get out of the house, exercise a bit, breathe some outdoor air and avoid cabin fever (this type of activity was quite important in the winter when I lived in Chicago).

People that are cautious in nature might find certain features of online shopping a bit hard to get used to, such as getting acclimated to what would be the equivalent of searching for merchandise with tunnel blinders that only permit a very narrow view of what is directly ahead of one’s eyes. Brick and mortar stores are physically arranged to make it more probable that certain items will be seen more than others. Online stores also provide focus on certain products over others. Most websites contain product descriptions, but the descriptions can be either too general or too detailed, making it difficult to compare two or more products on their features. If the shopper has a question that is appropriate for a human being such as a clerk in a store, where does the online customer go to ask the question? There is something lost in not having an informed person available to provide an immediate answer. Many popular online shopping sites now provide customer reviews-independent reviews provided by customers that have bought each product. These reviews go a long way toward providing enough detailed information about a product so one can determine whether or not to purchase it.

In the USA online shopping malls and websites address the limitations found in the online shopping process by offering near enough to a no-questions-asked return policy to ensure the happiness of the online customer. Even so, one downside of online shopping is having to wait to obtain the product, depending on whatever mode of shipping is selected. If a product needs to be refunded or returned for whatever reason, there’s the inconvenience of returning the product. This often involves a phone call and trip to the local post office, after which one waits again to either receive a replacement or refund. Compare this to just running the item and receipt back to a local brick front store and having either a refund or an exchanged product in hand within a few minutes.

Let’s talk about security. In a physical store, cash can be used, and if a debit or credit card is used the shopper gets to see who processes his or her card. Also, one is usually not required to provide personal information such as a name and physical address. Not so with online shopping, as the item must be addressed and delivered to a person at an address. Cash cannot be used online, so what entity processes the card and captures the personal information over the web? And how well is the personal information protected? One way to greatly reduce risk when shopping online is to use virtual credit card numbers. These numbers are provided by credit card issuers such as Citi and Discover, and can be used only once, so even if the credit card information is captured by some other entity during the transaction, it cannot be used to complete a second purchase. I use virtual credit card numbers when I shop online, and I highly recommend this practice.

Let us look at the benefits of shopping online. If the four-wheeled vehicle in one’s driveway is expensive to gas up, then it’s an obvious plus to be able to shop the virtual market and save transportation costs. It is also a “greener” arrangement-computers emit little or no carbon even when powered. For those who find it tiring to deal with crowds, there are none in cyberspace, and no lines to wait in during checkout. The magical online domain has no weather to hinder one, either-all shopping is done within a sheltered environment, safe from inclement weather. And there’s no need to worry about keeping one’s children together and in sight when online shopping. But perhaps the best feature of all is the cost savings that can be realized online. Online items can more often that not be purchased and shipped for substantially less, because the price doesn’t include any overhead costs associated with having a physical brick and mortar store. In most cases there is also no sales tax either, unless the merchant maintains some type of physical presence in the state where the item is purchased. For example, Amazon.com only charges sales tax on orders that are shipped to Kansas, North Dakota, New York or Washington, and Overstock.com only charges sales tax on orders that are shipped to Utah. To sweeten the deal, many merchants offer special online coupons, coupon codes and promotional codes that provide additional discounts.

As an example of the money that can be saved when shopping online, I bought a “Cuisinart Prep 11 Plus” food processor and used the online comparison shopping engine at Shopzilla.com to find the best deal, which was at Etronics.com for $172 with no sales tax and free shipping. A local Sears store had it listed at $199.99 and would have charged about $16 in sales tax for a total of $216. In this particular case I saved $44 (20%) shopping online and using Shopzilla to put online stores in competition for my business. And it only took me about 10 minutes of effort. With the advent of cheaper computing and increasing levels of online competition, people are generally becoming used to accessing the world through the eyes of cyberspace. So it is the coming thing, and a tide that is not likely to be turned. We as a society have adapted to other significant changes over time, such as the advent and convenience of air travel, trains and automobiles over horses, and online shopping is yet another paradigm shift we will adapt to.

In summary, when looking at the pros and cons of online shopping, the pros outweigh the cons, especially for items that are widely available and for which the best price is being sought. Shoppers save time and money buying what they need online and virtual store owners can run their businesses on far less overhead. The fact that the pros outweigh the cons is evident when one looks at the sharp increases in online shopping that have occurred on a global basis over the past few years.