There is no shortage of cyberstores on the Web: Nordstrom, Foot Locker, OfficeMax, Omaha Steaks, Borders Books & Music, and Harley Davidson have all set up shop. But is anyone buying anything?
If consumers haven't taken to cybershopping yet, they're going to, according to a study released today from MasterCard International and the National Retail Federation (NRF), which found that 84 percent of current Net users said they would buy something via the Net this year. The more time they spend on the Net, the more likely they are to buy, the study said. In fact, the study concludes, real-life retailers are going to be losing customers in droves to their cyberequivalents.
A separate study released this week predicts that by the year 2000, 1.8 million Internet users in Europe alone will be shopping from their home computer. Information technology consultancy Datamonitor said that insurance and vacations will be the most popular items to haggle over online.
But some observers say online services have a long way to go before they pose a serious threat to suburban malls and mail-order catalogs.
Maxwell Sroge, president of catalog consulting firm Maxwell Sroge Company, says online shopping will be "an explosive opportunity" for retailers once they learn to replace the visceral enjoyment of walking into stores or buying something over the phone.
"People enjoy thumbing through a catalog with a cup of coffee. You see something you like and you call the 800 number. It's a very simple, relaxing process," said Sroge. "The way that it's being done on the Net right now is almost like a storm-trooper approach to things. You push a button, and it will take you there and that's it. I think it's a horrible way to buy things."
Sroge also says that most current online shopping services are being designed by male engineers and that this may result in sites that are unappealing to female consumers.
"I think there are more men on the Net than women, and 85 percent of the shopping is done by women. Online shopping will take off when women are welcomed into the store and are given a pleasant overview of what's there," Sroge said.
The MasterCard/NRF study found that 75 percent of Net users are male with a median age of 34.
Sroge also refutes the idea floated by the MasterCard/NRF study that online shopping will take off after consumers are persuaded that online transactions are secure. "I don't think the guys talking about the so-called safety issue are shoppers. I think it's all a bunch of hype. You give your credit card number to a company over the phone, so why wouldn't you give it to a company over the Internet?" he said. "Safety isn't the problem; companies haven't realized what consumers want."