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Chapter 4. Chapter Understanding the Onl... > Understanding the Detriments

Understanding the Detriments

While users are turning to the Web for efficiency in the shopping process, consumers will sometimes find traditional stores better than online stores. It is important to understand when and why.

The primary detriment to online shopping described by researchers in "Interactive Home Shopping: Consumer, Retailer, and Manufacturer Incentives to Participate in Electronic Marketplaces," are those buying decisions in which experiential information is truly needed. Experiential information comes from the ability of the consumer to smell, taste, feel, or see something. Therefore, selling items like house paint or fragrances on the Internet may be a more difficult process. This was supported by a recent Ernst & Young study that cited the inability to touch items as a key drawback of shopping online.

Experiential information is also a factor when a high level of in-store assistance is useful. As the paper points out, Home Depot is one store that doesn't translate as well to the Web as a store like Barnes & Noble, due to the highly specialized, in-person assistance you can receive at a real-world Home Depot.

Interestingly, brand experience can lessen the need for experiential analysis. Once a consumer is satisfied that a product is to her liking, she may subsequently shop online for that product because of the expectation that the brand quality and characteristics will be equal to the original purchase. This eliminates the need for repeated evaluation. For example, the first time someone buys a particular perfume, it will likely be done at a traditional store where it can be smelled. However, subsequent reorders may be done over the Web. There is also the brand of the store to consider. Clearly people buy from L.L. Bean without seeing all the merchandise in person because they expect a certain level of quality from L.L. Bean merchandise. Trust (as seen through previous experiences and brand experience) is considered a key aspect to retailing on the Web. Several studies have shown how pre-existing trust for a product or retailer can be a large strategic advantage when it comes to retailing on the Web. This is one of the reasons that pre-existing offline merchants still have an advantage on the Web over Web-only startups.

Another detriment to online shopping discussed by researchers is the application of delivery and consumers' interest in delivery. Many products do not lend themselves to delivery. Again, Home Depot is an example of a store that sells products (such as fencing or other large items) that are more easily bought in person. Additionally, some people simply don't like home delivery. They either fear the delivery people or are concerned about lost or stolen packages. This, like the credit card security issue often cited in earlier days of online retailing, may decrease as people become more comfortable with home delivery of a more diverse collection of items (such as groceries, toys, etc) rather than just clothes and books.

Finally, in most cases the need for shipping eliminates the possibility of same-day procurement of the product. While Electronic Software Deliv ery (ESD) promises to bring impulse immediacy to the Web for digitized items such as software and music, many products can only be transferred through physical means. That means waiting for at least a day.

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