by Jelani A. Kimble
illustration by Isela Peña

illustration by Isela Peña

illustration by Isela Peña

The shopping mall is in danger. This year, “I plan on doing all of my Christmas shopping online. Last year, during Christmas time, I was nearly robbed [at the mall],” says Cal Poly Pomona student Christine Gonzalez.

As society becomes more technologically advanced, the number of customers visiting stores and malls has decreased. People are able to shop from the comfort of their own homes. It gives them a sense of safety and convenience. Everyday, there are reports in the news about the huge impact the Internet is having on our daily lives. More people are buying computers, as well as signing up with Internet service providers, and joining the technology parade. “I think the Internet is one of the most exciting innovations that has come at the end of the 20th Century. It already had greatly changed almost all of our lives. It will shape the way we behave, study, work, purchase things, and the way we are entertained,” says Al Clark, associate vice president of academic affairs.

Just about anything can be purchased online. A house, automobile, stocks, tickets, the latest concert or a flight to Hawaii. Some powerhouses in Internet commerce include Amazon, Ebay and America Online, where customers can set up their own personal business of wheeling and dealing. And this is just the start of something very big. Ebay is designed uniquely. Rather than just selling items, Ebay gives consumers the opportunity to sell their items in auctions. Just about anything can be sold on Ebay, as long as it is not something living. As Ebay hammered out the rules, there have been controversies when some have tried to sell babies and slaves, which were removed. The selling of reproductive eggs from fashion models was deemed acceptable, though. Amazon and Yahoo have now started auctions to keep up with Ebay’s fast growth on the World Wide Web. Still, Ebay is clearly the worldwide leader in online auctions. There are many people who have opted to quit their jobs and make their profits through online auctions. These online auction fanatics spend much time at yard sales, trying to obtain valuables that are considered trash to others. “The Internet shopping mall is very convenient, and it is growing rapidly,” says webmaster and San Dimas resident Jeff Carlton. To many, this is seen as a positive thing; others view it negatively. He says that some older people are computer illiterate and do not wish to learn how to access the World Wide Web. Others just want to shop the old fashioned way.

Probably the biggest issue that people have toward shopping on the Internet is the security issue of submitting their credit card numbers over the Web. During the infancy years of the Internet, it was indeed risky to submit such information. However, now there are sophisticated, high-quality security services designed specifically to keep hackers distant from consumers’ personal information. “Good quality web sites have 40-bit encryption or 20-bit encryption which is reasonably secure. In order for one to obtain [credit] information, it takes so much hassle that it’s not even worth it,” says Smith. What Smith questions about this particular subject is, “How are they storing your credit card information?” It is much safer to submit one’s credit card information over the Internet than it is to provide it over the telephone or through the mail. But consumers still must be wary of what sites they submit their credit card information to. Be certain that it is a professional site with a legitimate protection service. “No security in America is perfect. Clearly, if people can break their way into the Pentagon, then they can break their way into anything,” says Clark.

Some other negatives that consumers have toward this new way to shop is that they actually like to see the product in person and get a feel for it rather than just see a picture and a description. There is the fear of being disappointed once it arrives. That is countered with a survey conducted among 2,400 retail customers that reveals that of those who shop in real world discount stores, only 57 percent were satisfied with the speed of the shopping experience. And what is even more disappointing to retailers is that only 44 percent were content with the amount of product information found in real stores. Much Internet shopping businesses offer their products at discounted prices compared to regular retail prices to consumers who join the web site as members. “I get products online at discounts from 30 to 50 percent. There are always shipping fees, but it is a definite bargain. I enjoy having products come straight to my door step,” says Gonzalez.

In order to compete, every month many large corporations have decided to expand their businesses to the wonderful World Wide Web. Recent companies that have made the big switch are Avon, Costco, Office Max, Encyclopedia Britannica and Toys R US. “In a couple of years, you have to be online or else your business just will not last,” Carlton says. The key to having a long-running, successful business is creativity and the ability to change with society. It is harder for small business entrepreneurs to start up, unless they plan on going straight through the Internet.

Although many people are skeptical of shopping online, it is gaining much support all over the world. This year, cyber shoppers are expected to spend well over $18 billion. That figure is growing day-to-day, and it may soon be the first option over going out to the local shopping mall. Many retailers that do not have the resources to get on the Web have to come up with ways to remain competitive in the market because the Internet is a major threat to their existence.

The Internet, a new medium, has been born, and quickly people are becoming dependent to it. And remember this is just the beginning.