This short essay explores history of online shopping from author’s perspective. The essay concludes with a list of e-commerce features that should meet needs of emotional shoppers.
A few years ago, someone prophesised that workplace offices wouldn’t need paper in future. The prophecy didn’t ‘come to pass’ though, largely because it overlooked some significant human emotions. One such, was emotional need for safety and security, which was undermined apparently by new paper-less procedures. Another was emotional satisfaction that we all derive from manipulating tangible objects, which was also undermined by sudden lack of paper.
Yes, paper-less working was one of those ‘flights of fancy’ often indulged-in by visionaries at forefront of exciting new technologies. These ‘flights’ are forgivable because enthusiasm, even misguided enthusiasm, is a valuable resource in our sceptical world.
I must admit, when I first heard about online shopping, I was more sceptical than enthusiastic. ‘Shop-less purchases’ seemed just a little too much like ‘paper-less offices’. Yet, online shopping revolution has taken hold, to extent now that some very big retailers see Internet as a viable and important selling channel.
Why was I, along with so many other potential shoppers, sceptical at outset? So sceptical that I held-off making my first credit card purchase via Internet for several years. Even when I did make my first purchase, boxed software as I recall, I experienced terrible feelings of foreboding. The foreboding was worsened by ‘cart’ summarily rejecting my first few attempts to buy online, because I’d left spaces after every set of four digits, as I’d always done when buying by card over telephone previously.
During my long ‘hold-off’ period, media had fuelled my scepticism and undermined my enthusiasm, with scary stories of insecure servers, crackable encryption codes and stolen identities. Consequently, one day I’d feel brave enough to make my first purchase, next I’d decide to hold-off a few months longer. In all probability, I could have gone ahead with my software purchase without any problems or worries at all, as long as I’d stayed in ‘right’ shopping neighbourhoods.
As with paper-less offices then, when idea was first mooted, shop-less purchases made me feel unsafe and insecure. This affected my subsequent shopping behaviour. Like other people I’m sure, I wanted to be a part of ‘dot com’ revolution. However, perceived wisdom was that card purchases over Internet were inadvisable, if not dangerous. The whole industry was just too immature initially, apparently.
As well as unsafe and insecure, I felt isolated and exposed in early days of online shopping. I was a hesitant pioneer, wary of being caught out in open by ‘bandits’. I wanted to talk to other pioneers, to share my experiences with them; yes, and to hide amongst them at times. As a species, we humans like to belong to social groups. There’s safety in numbers.
We also like to feel loved by others. However, some of my early online shopping experiences, when customer support was still in its infancy, made me feel more like enemy than a friend. Thank goodness I was an able-bodied, young(ish), white, male Briton with English as my first language. Otherwise, I might have felt totally alienated.