Reflecting on my holiday shopping this year, it’s hard not to notice that a giant switch has been flipped – I do the majority of my shopping online now, and it really isn’t even much of a contest. In fact, holidays have almost nothing to do with it – I spend way more discretionary money online than at brick and mortar stores.
How Things Have Changed
It’s funny to reflect on now, but a few short years ago the Internet didn’t even have a commercial side (short of then-cutting-edge commercial spam). 1992 saw the passing of the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act, which allowed NSFNet (and later others) to connect to commercial networks.
My first experiences with the internet started in 1994, and I mainly stuck to Usenet (ha!). Still, I witnessed the flip – from a network dedicated to research and, yes, a redundant communication network in case of the destruction of many nodes to the commercial powerhouse we see today. And guess what – it’s helped you a lot, especially in the wallet area.
A Fatter Wallet
That’s right – the internet has had huge implications for how we shop in America, and it was evident even before stores started complaining about showrooming. It’s not even just retail which has been revolutionized by the internet – cost comparisons and easy to find information has completely revolutionized c0nsumer finance and insurance.
The big benefit, of course, is in normal retail purchases. A few years ago, as our friends at Control Your Cash have pointed out, brick and mortar booksellers Borders and Barnes and Noble were retail darlings. Today? Who doesn’t at least check Amazon for book prices when looking to buy a book?
Brick and Mortar inventions have even moved online – you can buy online with promo codes now and skip the coupon binder. Every purchase I make nowadays starts with a search for discounts and coupons – even if I can’t find a specific thread for what I want on discount forums like SlickDeals and FatWallet. That goes for any type of product – whether I’m trying to find coupons for Kmart or Sears to grab cheap appliances (my house has become a Kenmore showroom), or TigerDirect and Newegg to buy computer products. List price is only the final price if you’re lazy.
Gentlemen, Start Your Searches
It has come to the point where even if you buy something in store, you should start your research online. Easy price comparisons mixed with honest reviews and coupons (and easy reference on rewards programs and credit card cash-back) has made buying anything a buyer’s market.
And the future? Even though online taxation will probably go through a period of flux, I don’t see how traditional retailers can compete. The difference between opening a web browser and driving to a strip mall is half a tank of gas and thirty minutes. I can’t even imagine the new commercial innovations we’ll see in the next few years… but my wallet is waiting.