Things I Don't Want To Buy Over The
It's not much of a revelation to anyone who reads the news regularly
that the media has a morbid fascination for the death of dot coms. Almost
every writer and editor has become an industry analyst lately, and it
seems modern business professionals enjoy reading about e-commerce
disasters in the way they would gape at a train wreck. Everyone has his or
her own opinion. Security concerns are responsible for stagnating growth
in e-commerce! The lack of live help disgusts shoppers who have piles of
cash but no good Web sites on which to spend it! People are turned off by
banner ads! Web sites collect too much of my private information! Things
get ugly when poor management happens to good Web sites! People don't have
enough bandwidth to shop! The fear of giant meteors circling the earth are
distracting people from surfing for products!
I acknowledge that all these factors are considerations in the massive
restructuring of the e-commerce industry. (Well, except for the giant
meteorsI made that up.) I would, however, like to share a few random
thoughts on the differences between the enthusiasm for e-commerce two
years ago and the reality of the state of the union today. When it comes
down to it, I think there are more than a few things that people just
don't want to buy over the Internet. Here's a list. As you read it, play a
game with yourself and try to name at least one Web-based company in each
category that has closed its doors for good in the last year. Ready?
This was going to be a wave of the future, remember? Never set foot in a
grocery store againgroceries delivered right to you! There are some
problems with this concept. First off, I want to look at the stuff I buy.
When I buy roast beef at the deli counter, I always demand to look at it
first. I want it to be red, like meat, not brown, like my hiking boots. I
buy produce depending on what looks good that day. If the tomatoes dent
the linoleum when dropped on the floor, I avoid them. I also have few
product loyalties: like many people, I buy what's on special.
Online grocery merchants also suffer from what I call "doctor's
appointment hours syndrome." Deliveries can be made between 9:00 am
and 4:30 pm Monday through Friday! Well, hooray. If I were home and able
to take the deliveries between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm, I wouldn't have to
order my groceries online, would I?
I don't know many people who have the foresight to know they are going to
run out of pet food in five days. I have two cats, and when I run out of
cat food, I usually pop open a can of tuna from my kitchen cabinet or some
turkey lunchmeat from the fridge until I can run to the store around the
corner and buy another bag of food. And I do all that without being
patronized by a talking sock.
Some areas of the clothing market are booming onlineouterwear, for
example. Men's clothing does pretty well, also. Online sales of women's
clothing is in a bit of a slump. It doesn't take Einstein to figure out
the reasons for this, particularly if you are female and have ever been in
the dressing room of a Loehmann's. Maybe I'm atypical, but if I take 10
pieces of clothing into a dressing room, on average, I'll buy one. One.
And that's with the ability to touch, see, and try on the clothes. Sizes
vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer, and many shoppers aren't
willing to take the risk that what they buy won't need to be returned for
a different size, or just because the garment doesn't suit them. Practical
considerations aside, many people enjoy in-store shopping for clothes, and
find it therapeutic -- something a virtual shopping experience just can't
Wine And Beer
There are loads of Web sites dedicated to the fine and worthy arts of wine
and beer, most of which sell directly to consumers. The risk that a minor
will use these sites to score party favors for a kegger while his parents
are in Hawaii ("Dude, you just gotta try the '85 Chateau
Lafitte!") is real enough, however, to necessitate I.D. verification
upon delivery. Once again, if I were home during the day, I could just go
to the liquor store and buy wine and beer. Plus, a lot of potential
customers probably don't feel it's appropriate to have a box blatantly
stamped "The Beer of the Month Club" delivered to the mail room
at work. While many of these alcohol sites are dedicated to rare or
hard-to-find bottles, I can't imagine many people using them to buy their
table wine or party beer.
For safety reasons, this is another area where the checks and balances
required may present more of a hassle to a customer than actually going to
the pharmacy. I can imagine online drugstores are a time-saver for people
who use daily medications in the long-term: heart patients or diabetics,
for example. But for the consumer who occasionally fills a prescription
for antibiotics during a bout of bronchitis or a muscle relaxant for
sporadic back pain, these sites may not be as convenient as promised.
Drugs cannot be left in your mailbox or at your back door. Additionally,
some health care professionals have expressed dismay at the fact that it's
much more difficult for an online pharmacy to know what other drugs a
patient is taking, and as a result the likelihood of injurious or fatal
drug interactions spikes to a frightening level.
Web Sites Seemingly Created Just To Generate Press
At least once a week, I hear about a Web site that seems to have been
created simply to generate short-term buzz. One that pops to mind is a
site that allows mourners to pay their respects online by viewing a
funeral Web cast. (I'm not kiddingsee for yourself at www.funeral-cast.com/.)
Imagine uttering these words to a friend: "My thought are with you
now that your Uncle Herbert passed away. I'm sorry I couldn't make the
funeral, but I did log on. He looked very peaceful." Puh-leeze.
I view some e-commerce ventures as Emperor's New Clothes-type
scenarios. Everyone has a multitude of brilliant ideas why some businesses
go belly-up, but many people fail to state the obvious. Technology gurus
promise that in a few years, we won't have to leave our homes at all --
we'll be able to buy everything we need online. Isn't that something to
look forward to! By then, you'll also be able to log onto the Web site of
your therapist and confide in him that you're feeling really isolated from
Tracey E. Schelmetic welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.