We have evolved as shoppers; much like mankind came from nowhere, crossed a land bridge, multiplied, subtracted, divided and conquered. Women came along with them, or maybe even led the way. They learned to cook, comfort, make fire, set the table, vacuum, gossip and SHOP. (This is a chauvinistic, evolutionary theory, and perhaps not as Darwin envisioned The Origin of the Species, but rather as Darwins wife might have seen it.)
So where are we now? First there were mail order catalogues, then retail stores. One very effective way to market things is always cheap brochures. The malls then found modern civilization, and now the rage is buying everything from soup to nuts online. Has shopping in department stores gone to the dogs (or wherever things go when they have passed us by?) Where do the elegant dogs of today shop anyway? Does Macys tell Amazon.com?
Online shopping has reached gigantic proportions among its three biggest powerhouses: Amazon, E-bay and Yahoo. Online retailers have their gimmicks, just like the ones that Gypsy Rose Lee used to sing about. (In E -commerce you dont have to get undressed as she did. I suppose every cloud has its silver lining.) Sellers provide rebates, coupons, 60-minute specials and one-day sales. Marketers understand human behavior and react accordingly. For example, the Christmas shopping season would ordinarily be over by the third week in December, but smart sellers promote gift certificates, discounts, speedy shipping (for a price, of course) and last minute ideas to stretch the season longer. Some web sites target male shoppers, you know, those creatures who are too busy to shop for presents until the stores are about to close on Christmas Eve. They feature online shopping ideas like jewelry, knowing full well that the majority of men buy such things for the women in their lives.
Many sites use Web-based tie-ins to boost sales. Tower Records, for example, a few years ago sent out 400,000 catalogues to its best customers, along with e-mails, informing them about the new catalogue and online shipping options. Macys has developed a holiday gift registry, to which shoppers can direct their friends and family. (Its like a wedding registry, but without the rings and the reception.) And any Macys.com shopper who purchases an item from a rotating gift category receives free shipping on that item, as well as anything else purchased on the site at that same time.
Shopping on the Internet is no riskier than buying by mail order or on the phone and is definitely safer that using a credit card to pay for a meal in a restaurant. This is not because restaurant personnel are any more or less honest than those who work for online retailers. It is due to the fact that once information is entered online it is encrypted and safe from sticky-fingered hackers. Despite the obvious convenience of being able to shop at home without your trousers or while wearing your pajamas, there are concerns that should be addressed.
When you shop from home you have to give out more information to the seller than you would if you were in a shop (with or without your trousers or pajamas). This could include your name, phone number, address, e-mail address and, certainly, your credit card details. Remember that information given to a seller cannot be given to anyone else without your permission. If the company you are buying from wants to pass on your details, it must give you the right to say no. This is often done by means of a tick box on the paperwork itself. Make sure you do this if you do not want your name passed around to other sellers.
There are a number of things you can do to ensure safety when paying online. For one thing, do not ever give bank account numbers or credit card details to any company you havent checked out. Avoid sending cash. Use checks, credit cards or postal money orders whenever possible. Keep a copy of your order and a note of when you sent it in a place where you can find it. (In my house such a detail must be ascertained beforehand.) If someone uses your credit card fraudulently, you can cancel the payment and your credit card company must arrange for your account to be re-credited in full. If you discover that someone has used your card without your permission, inform the credit card issuer immediately.