Online shopping (sometimes known as e-tail from “electronic retail” or e-shopping) is a form of electronic commerce which allows consumers to directly buy goods or services from a seller over the Internet using a web browser. Alternative names are: e-web-store, e-shop, e-store, Internet shop, web-shop, web-store, online store, online storefront and virtual store. Mobile commerce (or m-commerce) describes purchasing from an online retailer’s mobile optimized online site or app.
An online shop evokes the physical analogy of buying products or services at a bricks-and-mortar retailer or shopping centre; the process is called business-to-consumer (B2C) online shopping. In the case where a business buys from another business, the process is called business-to-business (B2B) online shopping. The largest of these online retailing corporations are Alibaba, Amazon.com, and eBay.
Advantages of e-shopping
Online stores are usually available 24 hours a day, and many consumers have Internet access both at work and at home. Other establishments such as internet cafes and schools provide internet access as well. In contrast, visiting a conventional retail store requires travel and must take place during business hours.
2. Information and Reviews:
Online stores must describe products for sale with text, photos, and multimedia, whereas in a physical retail store, the actual product and the manufacturer’s packaging will be available for direct inspection (which might involve a test drive, fitting, or other experimentation).
Some online stores provide or link to supplemental product information, such as instructions, safety procedures, demonstrations, or manufacturer specifications. Some provide background information, advice, or how-to guides designed to help consumers decide which product to buy.
3. Price and Selection in e-shopping:
One advantage of shopping online is being able to quickly seek out deals for items or services provided by many different vendors (though some local search engines do exist to help consumers locate products for sale in nearby stores). Search engines, online price comparison services and discovery shopping engines can be used to look up sellers of a particular product or service.
Shipping costs (if applicable) reduce the price advantage of online merchandise, though depending on the jurisdiction, a lack of sales tax may compensate for this.
Disadvantages of e-shopping
1. Fraud and Security Concerns:
- Given the lack of ability to inspect merchandise before purchase, consumers are at higher risk of fraud than face-to-face transactions. Merchants also risk fraudulent purchases using stolen credit cards or fraudulent repudiation of the online purchase. However, merchants face less risk from physical theft by using a warehouse instead of a retail storefront.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption has generally solved the problem of credit card numbers being intercepted in transit between the consumer and the merchant. However, one must still trust the merchant (and employees) not to use the credit card information subsequently for their own purchases, and not to pass the information to others. Also, hackers might break into a merchant’s web site and steal names, addresses and credit card numbers, although the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is intended to minimize the impact of such breaches.
- Identity theft is still a concern for consumers. Computer security has thus become a major concern for merchants and e-commerce service providers, who deploy countermeasures such as firewalls and anti-virus software to protect their networks.
- Phishing is another danger; where consumers fooled into thinking they are dealing with a reputable retailer, when they have actually manipulated into feeding private information to a system operated by a malicious party. Denial of service attacks are a minor risk for merchants, as are server and network outages.
2. Lack of Full Cost Disclosure:
The lack of full cost disclosure may also be problematic. While it may be easy to other websites to view. Compare the base price of an item online, it may not be easy to see the total cost up front. Additional fees such as shipping are often not be visible until the final step in the checkout process.
The problem is especially evident with cross-border purchases; where the cost indicated at the final checkout screen may not include additional fees that must be paid upon delivery such as duties and brokerage. Some services such as the Canadian based Wasabi attempts to include estimates of these additional cost, but nevertheless, the lack of general full cost disclosure remains a concern.
3. Privacy in e-shopping:
Brick-and-mortar stores also collect consumer information. Some Privacy of personal information is a significant issue for some consumers. Many consumers wish to avoid spam and telemarketing which could result from supplying contact information to an online merchant. In response, many merchants promise to not use consumer information for these purposes.
Many websites keep track of consumer shopping habits in order to suggest items. And ask for a shopper’s address and phone number at checkout, though consumers may refuse to provide it. Many larger stores use the address information encoded on consumers’ credit cards (often without their knowledge); to add them to a catalogue mailing list. This information is obviously not accessible to the merchant when paying in cash or through a bank; (money transfer, in which case there is also proof of payment).