Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home shopping offers convenience, profitability

July 17, 2008

Although our lives have changed for the better in most ways, there is one thing my mother-in-law enjoyed that we do not have. She had a grocer whom she could call and place an order for groceries that would be delivered to her doorstep. Most of her grocery shopping was done via this grocer. The arrangement had benefits for each: he understood what she wanted, she didn't order petty amounts, and he filled her order with reasonably priced, quality food.

I didn't mind grocery shopping too much when I was younger and nimble of foot. I usually stocked up when I was in town because we were some distance from the grocery store, but I was well able to get it in my car and unloaded and put away. Now, I've become less mobile and often depend on others for my grocery shopping. I would love to be able to send an e-mail list to the local grocery store with my food order. Delivery would be nice, but I would be satisfied to be able to pick it up at a pick-up window just as I do fast-food orders. There is a store in Portland, Ore., which does deliver food items ordered online with a small delivery charge. I once ordered an Easter cake over the Internet for my grandchildren who live there.

Most other items I need and use are available on the Internet. I figure that with gasoline prices as high as they are, I can afford to pay shipping costs on many items. And, there is the added advantage that I can comparison shop with the click of a button. There are many different places online where I can find clothing and household items.

I have an online subscription to "Consumer Reports." I put the name of an item I'm looking for such as "coffee maker" into the search engine of the magazine's Web site and I get a list of coffee makers, with critiques of each and a "best buy" item. I can find a model of the coffee maker through Google. I also use online shopping for books, music, clothes and toys, among other things.

This is not new shopping behavior for me. My parents ordered things not easily available locally through a catalog. When I was a child we used the Sears catalog as a reference book for our wish list for Santa Claus. It's not a bad way to shop if one has a small amount of patience. I find that it broadens my selection almost infinitely.

There is an additional perk for small sellers and for those with resale items. They can sell stuff online through places like eBay and Amazon without making a huge business investment. There is a new term called "the long tail," to describe the strategy of selling a large number of individual or niche items in relatively small quantities. This is possible to do profitably by huge online sales machines with search functions and mechanisms to identify customers with specific tastes and needs. For example, think of a person looking for an out-of-print book on collecting ceramic pigs. If there is one copy available in some dusty second hand bookstore hooked up to an online merchandising service such as eBay or even a more specific retailer of used books the buyer and seller can find each other at a profit to both.

Truly, the Internet has made our world into a much smaller and, at the same time, larger place.

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