Past, present and future of online shopping

bookIn today’s technology and internet-based society, for most people online shopping has become the new way of purchasing just about anything, even groceries. It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago this type of shopping didn’t even exist. With Amazon celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year, it’s a good time to look back at how shopping has evolved over time, what’s happening today, where it is heading in the future.

A brief history of online shopping

Back in 1979, an entrepreneur by the name of Michael Aldrich invented online shopping; he connected a television with a computer that could process transactions through the phone line (called videotex technology). In 1980 he launched a business where electronic business transactions between customers, agents, suppliers and distributors could be done online through this technology. Throughout the following decade he designed and manufactured various online shopping systems that he sold, installed and maintained for his clients using this technology.

By the 1990s, the World Wide Web was up and running and open for commercial use. Over the next few years quite a bit more technology was invented that allowed for online banking and shopping, and just a few years later, in 1995, both Amazon and eBay launched their online shopping platforms.

Online shopping today

Over the next couple of decades, there were numerous inventions, developments and modifications to online shopping systems that greatly improved the online shopping experience and its overall efficiency and ease of use, making it the booming marketplace that it is today.

For example, the growing intelligence and access to information of search engines has given the shopper a more efficient way to find what they’re looking for. Shopping cart software is another important improvement to these online shopping platforms, where shoppers can accumulate multiple items, adjust quantities, among other capabilities (just as if they were physically shopping in a conventional store). The checkout process has also been improved over the years, so that making payment and organizing delivery is a fast and efficient process. Many websites also allow customers to become members and save their information to make their shopping experiences even more effective and efficient.

The payment systems have also changed and adapted over the years to become what they are today: adaptable to the needs of all customers. Payment is usually payable by debit or credit card, but some sites also accept Paypal, gift cards, wire transfers, money orders, checks and more.

Finally, how you receive your items is an important aspect of online shopping that has developed and adapted over the years to become what it is today. While some items purchased online are digital, and there is no need for physical shipping (the item is simply downloaded in the moment, such as music or movies), for physical items sellers have had to develop efficient systems to get the merchandise to their customers in a reasonable amount of time. Some sellers use a third party distributor for the shipping and handling of the merchandise, while others may entice customers to opt for in-store pick up, among other methods. Most online sellers have very sophisticated systems that allow them to deliver massive amounts of merchandise quickly and all over the country (or even world).

The future of online shopping

Although much improved from its early days, and becoming more advanced all the time with new technology development, online shopping is not perfect yet. There are still some issues that need to be worked out. For example, one complaint of online shoppers is that some websites lack full cost disclosure (meaning, the final cost isn’t visible until the final step of the checkout process, when shipping, tax, handling, and other fees may be added unexpectedly).

One current and relevant issue with online shopping which needs to be addressed now and in the future is the safety and protection of shoppers. Purchasing items online means the customer is not able to inspect the merchandise before they buy it, for one. On the other hand, online shopping puts customers at higher risk for fraud, credit card or identity theft. Currently, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption software usually protects your credit card number, but it’s not fool-proof, and there is always the risk that the employees or merchants with access to that information will not use it illegally or will sell it to a third party. Hackers may also find a way to access your financial information, which is another risk to your finances and identity when you shop online. In fact, identity theft is a growing problem in the wake of the online shopping boom, and therefore, privacy and protection of information should be issues at the forefront of future developments and regulations in the online shopping realm.

Another issue today that should be sorted out in the future is international online shopping. For some websites, customers are not able to purchase items on a website based in another country or send items to another country. For example, some retailers cannot process international credit cards, or they require that the billing address and the shipping address are exactly the same for any purchases to be approved.

Despite these issues, online shopping is still the preferred shopping method of most people, probably for several reasons. First of all, shoppers can research and compare items or brands, search for the best deals, and read reviews and opinions made by other customers, in order to increase their sense of security. Plus, they can do all of this from the comfort of their own home, or office, or car, or anywhere they way really, and without having to wait in any lines or deal with any opening and closing hours, ever. Today, convenience and efficiency rule, and online shopping provides just that. The technology today can even get to know our preferences, our lifestyles, and much more information that allow retailers and internet sites to make suggestions to us related to merchandise or products we might be interested in.

Online shopping has come along way, and it’s amazing to think where we were even just a few decades ago. That means it will be amazing to see the advances that are made over the next few decades.