We are all familiar with the term ‘online shopping’ but it may come as a surprise to many consumers that this method of purchasing goods has been in existence longer than the World Wide Web. In the summer of 1979, using a telephone line, a television and a real-time transaction processing machine, Michael Aldrich invented what he called ‘teleshopping.’ He ventured into the previously unknown world of e-commerce and a dynasty was born. 35 years later the legacy of this pioneer has been transformed into the virtual market place we use today.
Since Aldrich dipped his toe into the sea of virtual commerce, online options for product purchase and delivery have evolved. 'Click and collect' is becoming increasingly popular and has started to overtake home deliveries. John Lewis reported earlier this week that their version of this service made up 56% of their online purchases over the festive period. Other shops and supermarkets have reported a similar increase as consumers begin to take control of where they collect their goods from. Package collection points are making it increasingly convenient for the consumer to shop online, whilst retaining control and an associated degree of certainty of when purchases can be retrieved.
Payment methods have also evolved meaning that it is now easier and more secure to transfer virtual funds. Payment processors, such as PayPal ensure that bank details are never shared with retailers during standard transactions. This service has led to an increase in confidence across the board and in turn, the amount of consumers shopping online. Payment gateways which make use of security codes have also helped increase confidence in this field. Protection systems and insurance waivers are often in place for consumers. These secure payment mechanisms have meant that more people feel they can safely visit the virtual market place.
It's not all great news though. There have been negative repercussions for some consumers partaking in online shopping in recent weeks. Black Friday shook the very foundations of retailers both large and small, when certain resources were found to be inadequate. Deliveries were delayed and websites crashed all over the 'Virtual' UK. Shoppers waited in virtual queues and many were given a limited amount of time to browse certain websites. Some shoppers have since declared that online shopping nearly 'ruined' Christmas for them, particularly when food deliveries were cancelled and courier capacities failed to meet demand. Perhaps the online marketplace has now, in 2014, reached its boundaries and its limitations? Or is it the synchronisation of physical infrastructure and support functions with the virtual marketplace which need to be considered in greater detail by online retailers?
Conversely, some shoppers prefer to visit retailers in the physical sense. The high street can be a magical place to visit at Christmas, with displays in shop windows, lights and music. There are also other benefits; to many consumers shopping is a social event. They can browse the aisles, talk to friends, meet up with colleagues and 'go for a coffee.' Shopping in person also means that, what you see is what you get - you are 100% sure that the item you have in your basket will not vanish and become 'out-of-stock' and can be reasonably aware of the quality of the item. Shopping in person is a solid, traditional, failsafe method which has been tried and tested for generations, with the associated payment methods evolving from bartering for a cow to the use of chip and pin. Should we be protecting our high streets, our book shops and corner shops? Are we 'Virtually' selling ourselves short as these businesses and conveniences begin to dwindle in success?
Broadband is still a new technology, in the UK and on the high-street. It has many positive applications and is an exciting tool, which seemingly has no boundaries, but are we perhaps living too virtually? What would be the impact if the 'High Street' was no more? At present the online market, due to consumer demand, is a buyer's market – the consumer influences the terms. What would happen if consumers had no option but to shop online, if all shops closed and it became a sellers' market?
Author - Cllr Richard Davies
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