Online Shopping: A Craze Among the Masses (but with what effect?)

Shop­ping has always been an activ­ity in which cus­tomers browse the shelves for avail­able goods or ser­vices at various phys­i­cal retail outlets — actual shops.  Since the begin­ning of known history, humans have directly exchanged goods and ser­vices with one another in a system of trading (barter — this service or product for that service or product).  As civ­i­liza­tions grew, the system of barter was replaced with retail trade involv­ing coinage.  Money.  That is the system in which we have been famil­iar for the last few cen­turies — the system of our parents and grand­par­ents, includ­ing most of our lives.

However, cus­tomers now can simply access the “mar­ket­place” via the inter­net by using their com­put­ers or smart­phones.  No need for our phys­i­cal pres­ence, phys­i­cal prod­ucts to be seen and touched, or travel outside the home.  This new form of market is the emerg­ing mode of busi­ness known as e‑business.  It has been active in “devel­oped” coun­tries for decades, but it is now oper­at­ing in full force in India, and there are def­i­nitely serious effects on our way of life and the land­scape of phys­i­cal shops that fam­i­lies have spent decades invest­ing them­selves in.

In the present-day context, learn­ing and ana­lyz­ing con­sumer behav­ior is extremely vital for the success of a busi­ness.  The fun­da­men­tal issue which arises in front of a con­sumer when he/she embarks on a shop­ping endeavor is now, which mode of shop­ping should they choose to satisfy their own needs.  Should they pur­chase online or offline?  Go to a tra­di­tional mar­ket­place or a virtual one?  Who will they reward with their pur­chase:  The actual shop-owner in their town, or an unseen, virtual one that they don’t know?

The ques­tion facing us is whether or not online shop­ping is better than offline.  Who should we reward with our pur­chase?  What kind of ripple effects happen to our phys­i­cal town and local stores when we make our pur­chased online from far-off vendors?  How are we hurting our local economy, and there­fore ourselves?

The online shop­ping indus­try has flared up to a point where people prefer to shop online due to ease of pur­chase, con­ve­nience, variety of prod­ucts, and tech savvy con­sumers able to effec­tively surf the net for exactly what they want.  People can shop 24/7 from wher­ever they want, and the world is at their fin­ger­tips.  There is no hustle and bustle, no rushing, no crowded shops.

But, the fact is that our online habits of pur­chas­ing goods is affect­ing our local busi­ness-owners, our towns, our way of living.  Or is it?

The tra­di­tional way of offline is still con­sid­ered best by many.  People want to phys­i­cally check the prod­ucts and have face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion (bar­gain­ing, etc.).  It is also rel­a­tively easier to return prod­ucts in person than online.  If we have product com­pli­ca­tions after an online shop­ping expe­ri­ence, we face more prob­lems when trying to nego­ti­ate or return the product.  There are also higher chances of ship­ping issues, pack­ag­ing prob­lems, mis­han­dling by the deliv­ery company, and risk of fraud if we enter the wrong website marketplace.

The inter­net was opened to the public in 1991, and soon after­wards online shop­ping became pos­si­ble.  Since that time, the online shop­ping expe­ri­ence has become much smoother and enjoy­able for the con­sumer.  People have become less skep­ti­cal of online shop­ping over the years.

In con­clu­sion, it is the opinion of our student edi­to­r­ial group that BOTH tra­di­tional and online shop­ping are impor­tant to us.  Despite the rapid growth of online sales in India, and the pro­jected expo­nen­tial growth of that indus­try, the major­ity of con­sumers in India still prefer tra­di­tional shop­ping — espe­cially since a huge portion of Indians don’t hav access to online shop­ping methods, nor the where­withal to under­stand how to nav­i­gate the inter­net shop­ping expe­ri­ence.   People want to see the shop-owner and touch and try on the product in real time.

Both online and offline expe­ri­ences have their good and bad points, prob­lems and ben­e­fits.  There is a trust issue for us when dealing with money online.  However, the allure of a better product assort­ment and easy shop­ping expe­ri­ence is a benefit for the online pro­po­nents.  There are serious respon­si­bil­i­ties we have of taking care of our towns and local shop­ping centers by con­tin­u­ing to shop offline so that we reward our local vendors and their fam­i­lies — making our towns strong.  Also, ques­tions of what is better for the envi­ron­ment — offline or online?

In any event, how we spend our money is extremely impor­tant.  Every rupee we spend is a reward to someone for some­thing.  We need to take many issues into account when we buy some­thing either online or offline.  Time marches on, and we have to adjust to moder­nity and yet remain true to our values.