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Still Slow to Walk the Web

Call it the desktop shopping mall.

As consumers search for more ways to save time, the Internet beckons.

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Sales over the Web almost doubled this year to $2.4 billion.

Still, browsers did a lot more window shopping than buying, says Terry Jones, president of Travelocity, one of the Internet's most popular travel agencies.

So Travelocity, like many other online retailers, offers ways for visitors to pick out products online, then buy them in person or over the telephone.

Credit card security

"The No. 1 reason people don't shop on the Net is they're afraid to give their credit-card numbers," says Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group.

Mr. Jones blames early publicity for that reluctance, which he calls overblown.

"If you use secure systems, they're very safe," he says. "There has never been a theft" using today's secure encryption technology.

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If a site uses encryption to transmit your credit card number, a window pops up to warn you on your screen. Unless you see the window and click OK, don't enter your credit-card number.

Consumers also shy away from the time it takes to shop the Web, Mr. Beemer says.

Finding the right Web site can be daunting for the uninitiated, and downloading is often slow.

Shoppers are also concerned about how to return products, Beemer says.

The solution is to buy from a company you know and trust - a brand name.

Many familiar retail stores, such L.L. Bean, offer products over the Internet. If you know the company would take something back in the store, they will do the same for the Web, Jones says.

With an established brand, you also have confidence that your credit-card information won't be shared or sold after it gets to the store, he says.

Slowly, more people are getting comfortable buying on the Web, and Jones's business increases 20 percent a month.

Small change

But the $2.4 billion the Internet saw in a year, Wal-Mart and K mart will make in a day, Beemer says. Until more people are comfortable with electronic security, "the Internet will remain a stronger advertising than a retail vehicle," he adds.

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