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Making online shopping as easy as 1 2 3

By DAVE GUSSOW Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 1999

It's a shopping jungle out there, especially for newcomers to the Net.

Most people understand driving to a mall or a store, browsing aisles, picking up items for inspection and trying on clothes. Those are familiar rituals.

But finding the right item among thousands of Web sites, dealing with new merchants and, especially, giving a credit card number to a site can be daunting. In fact, about half of consumers able to do so don't shop online because of concerns about credit card security, according to market research firm Forrester Research.

"Consumers have to get over their behavioral concerns," said Seema Williams, an analyst with Forrester Research. "It takes a while to get used to it."

To help ease fears newbies may have about online shopping, some sites provide assistance. Many of America Online's 19-million subscribers are new to the Web. The largest online service said 4-million of its members made online purchases Thanksgiving week, with about 600,000 members shopping for the first time.

AOL created an area called 1-2-3 Shop for new online shoppers. It shows people how to search for items, how to select products and how to go through the checkout process. It explains refund policies and offers special buys to get people acclimated.

"People are shopping earlier in their online experience," AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said, adding that it wants users to feel secure and satisfied with the experience.

Those who don't belong to AOL can ease into shopping with the help of Shop Online 1 2 3 ( Its staff writes stories about their experiences shopping, buying and returning items. It also has a beginner's guide with tips and breaks the reviewed sites into categories such as accessories, electronics and toys.

-- Information from Bloomberg News was used in this report.

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