Take a shopping trip without leaving the barn – E-commerce E-volution – Brief Article

Edwin Powell

I’m guessing I’m not alone in having done a good bit of my Christmas shopping online this past holiday season. Say what they may about the dot-com boom having gone bust, e-commerce is alive and well, and a mighty darn convenient way to shop. No crowded malls, no grid-locked parking lots, no interminable check-out lines, just point and click and wait for the goods to be delivered. Sure, you can’t touch and feel the merchandise before you buy, but on the other hand, you can get your shopping done in the time it would take you to drive to the mall and find a parking space.

Although it seems like eons looking back on it, it really wasn’t that long ago that I and a lot of other people were pretty leery of the idea of typing in a credit card number on a Website to order something. The Internet was pretty much an untamed frontier back then, a wild and woolly place where hackers ruled and safeguards were few and far between. It was a place where one was wise not to take unnecessary chances. Still, e-commerce Websites were good sources of information where one could research a purchase before going out to a store to buy an item or before picking up the phone to order it.

I don’t know why late one summer night in 1998 I decided to break with tradition and actually order a CD from Grateful Dead Merchandising’s Website. I guess I was just curious to see how well it worked. I got my CD a couple of weeks later, my credit card was charged the correct amount, and I didn’t see any inexplicable charges that could have come about thanks to an intercepted credit card number. In short, the system worked.

It didn’t take me long to become surprisingly comfortable with this activity that had once made me sort of uneasy. Heck, it was even sort of fun. Of course, sometimes it could get to be a little too much fun. For some reason, it’s easier for me to make impulse purchases online than in a store. It’s kind of a giddy feeling to hold your finger above the mouse, trying to decide if you really need that item, knowing you don’t, and then clicking anyway. I’ve made purchases online that in a store I would have walked away from without a second thought.

Having quickly become a fan of–and maybe even a little bit addicted to–online shopping, it was only natural that I got excited when the idea first surfaced of rating e-commerce sites that sold office supplies. Not that there’s anything that exciting about shopping for things like scissors, legal pads, Post-It notes, and green ballpoint pens, but it was a fun idea to put the various sites to the test and see which ones performed the best under pressure.

It was an interesting exercise indeed, though we weren’t prepared for the sheer volume of products we had to find a place to store and keep straight as to where each product came from. We had so many boxes piled up, I began to feel like Fortunato in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” who was walled up in a wine cellar. The whole project became so large and so complex that it required two writers to complete and unexpectedly grew into a two-part feature, spanning the January and February 2000 issues of OfficeSolutions. It literally was the biggest story we’d ever done. Its success was measured in the large amount of reader feedback we received from that article for more than a year after it first appeared.

This month, we take a second look at that project, how the sites we rated have fared in the past two years, and how the state of e-commerce has changed.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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