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Have Credit Card, Will Shop Online!

Have Credit Card, Will Shop Online!

If you’ve been alive and semi-conscious for the past ten years, you’ve witnessed one of the major cultural paradigm shifts in all of human history – the rise of online shopping via the Internet.

For centuries, people bought products and services mostly from their neighbors and people they knew. Strangers were usually regarded with suspicion when they came to town peddling their wares.

Postage not included

One of the first major shifts in cultural buying habits was the rise of “mail order” shopping in the late 1800s. Entrepreneurs took advantage of the latest technology (which in those days meant the railroads, printing presses, and the ubiquitous Postal Service) to market a variety of products – even brides! – to customers they had never met.

For example, two young men named Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck started Sears & Roebuck in Chicago in 1887 to sell watches and jewelry to farmers via mail order catalogs. By 1895, they were producing a 532-page catalog with a wide variety of items and their annual sales volume topped $750,000. Then in the early 1900s, they also opened retail stores in the cities to compete with another new marketing trend – the “chain” stores that were starting to sweep across the U.S.

Over the past century or so, we’ve seen a number of major changes in the ways that goods are marketed and sold. Along with the traditional retail storefronts, businesses have used door-to-door salesmen, radio & TV advertising, network marketing, direct mail (how many credit card offers did you get in your mailbox this week?) and yes, even more catalogs to sell products. And who would have ever thought that people would actually watch 30-minute TV commercials – and then buy the products being peddled by celebrities on channels like QVC and HSN?

Online or out of business?

However, the changes brought by the Internet have been even more profound. Few people imagined even ten years ago that so many of us would be willing to provide our credit card account numbers to a nameless, faceless computer system in order to buy products “sight unseen” (other than via a web page image) – often from “virtual” businesses that may have no retail storefront operations at all.

I get a lot of different reactions as I talk with business owners about using the Internet to market their products and services. Some don’t see the need for a web site as they have plenty of business without one, and that’s fine – for now, at least. Others see how a web site could support and grow their current business, saving them time and providing more exposure and information to their existing and potential customers. And still others want to build their whole business around their web site, using it as a cornerstone of their marketing and sales programs by implementing online catalogs and e-commerce to sell their products and services.

I want it, and I want it now!

We may well complain about how consumerism has pushed aside the religious meaning of the holidays, but one thing’s for sure – our modern society has become hooked on buying online!

The Monday after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday has now been dubbed “Cyber Monday” because of all the people going back to work and shopping online. It sure beats braving the crush to get bargains at the malls on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving)!

A recent survey by comScore Networks estimates that consumer spending at U.S. Internet sites (excluding travel sites) will exceed US$19 billion during the 2005 holiday season, up 24% over 2004. And to think that just 10 years ago, making purchases via the Internet was regarded with suspicion and mistrust.

It appears that the motto of many people at this time of year is, “Have credit card, will shop online!” I think that one of the attractions of online buying is that it fulfills our desires for instant gratification – finding products we want, making travel arrangements, comparing prices, even bidding for items via online auctions – and we can do it NOW from the comfort of our home or office, even while in our underwear (well, at least from home!)

So if you’re a business owner, have a Merry Online Christmas and a Happy Internet New Year! And to all of you, may the blessing and joy of the Christ-child be with you and your families.


About the Author

David Green has wrassled with networking gear for 19 years and has so far managed to retain both his hair and his faith (more of the latter, though). He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Theology, which of course prepared him well for a career as a network engineer and Internet marketing consultant (ever prayed that a server would resurrect?) He is the founder and president of NetGreen Consulting, Inc., which provides "self-service" websites, network analysis, and Internet security consulting services, including Common Criteria Certification documentation. He can be reached at


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