Guest column: 'Tis the season for online shopping

Click till you drop? 'Tis the season for online holiday shopping - and the myth-making machine is cranking at full power. The experts are solemnly swearing that this will be a "watershed year" for gift-buying on the Web. Shopping habits will be shifting "dramatically" to electronic purchasing. The seasonal hunt for a parking space at the mall is over.

Dream on.

Once you take a closer look at the numbers and survey findings, a more mundane reality emerges. Online shopping has indeed developed into a respectable revenue stream, which thousands of retail Web sites are grateful to see moving from a trickle to an actual cash flow.

Yet it's abundantly clear that real-world stores still rule in retail. One study conducted for the Shop.org association of online retailers noted that Americans spent $US4.4 billion buying stuff online in the first half of this year. But guess what? That's a paltry on percent of total U.S. retail spending during the same period.

Suddenly, that estimated $2.3 billion we'll be spending this holiday season at retail Web sites isn't so impressive. It's only double what Americans spent last year in the online holiday rush. A truly dramatic shift would move Web shopping far beyond that single percentage point of total retail spending.

Another recent study by the National Retail Federation figures that only about 30 per cent of today's Internet users will click through to that virtual shopping basket and fork over a credit-card number. So if you've been feeling left out of the online buying frenzy, rest easy. A whopping 88 per cent of U.S. households will buy nothing whatsoever on the Internet this year, according to Odyssey, a San Francisco marketing firm.

Truth is, we're not changing our shopping habits all that much. We're just adding another option to the list. So -- in the meantime -- save me that parking space at the mall.

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