There is Hardly an Item that can't be Bought on the Web

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

September/October 1999


In 1969 Arlo Guthrie wrote a classic anti-establishment song whose refrain went, "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant." Today's updated version might be, "You can get anything you want on the World Wide Web."

There is hardly an item that can't be purchased on the web. In 1998, $50 billion was spent on web purchases, with estimates for 1999 ranging from $120 billion to $200 billion. Christmas 1998 shoppers doubled their online purchases, spending an average of $339 compared with $154 online in 1997. In 1997 one in four people online had made a purchase. In 1998, 80% of those online had bought at least one product, spending over $600 on all online purchases last year.

With estimates of between 25% and 33% of the U.S. population online in 1999, and predictions that by 2003 that will rise to over 50%, we are a culture ripe for e-commerce.

Shopping Malls

There are thousands of online malls, with each offering a variety of products. Using the Infoseek search engine (http://www.infoseek.com/), yielded 180,648 hits to the query "shopping mall." [NOTE: quote marks tell a search engine that the words inside the quote marks must appear in that order.] The most popular shopping is at Yahoo Store, the mall at Earthlink, America Online, L.L. Bean and Best Buy (web addresses are listed in the table at the end of the article). You can even shop online from many paper catalogs by going to catalogcity.com.

Bookstores

The book business has begun its move from the superstore to the online superstore. The most popular e-commerce site (visited by 39% of online users in surveys) is amazon.com, followed closely by barnesandnoble.com. Both make purchasing books (and more) simple and quick. After registering your e-mail address as your user name, and establishing a password, tell the site to save your password. You never have to enter it again. After making your first purchase, your account information is set up on a secure server which the e-commerce site keeps confidential.

I use amazon.com to buy most of my books and it takes only a minute after I make my selections to complete the transaction. The books usually arrive within 2-4 days (although you can have them shipped overnight for an additional fee). There are over 100 online bookstores and prices vary dramatically. A site called Acses will comparison shop all online bookstores for price, shipping cost and delivery time. I asked Acses to check on my book, TechnoStress (list price $22.95 plus tax), and it found 46 sites with prices ranging from $19.38 (shipped in 14 days) to $57.18 (shipped overseas). Barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com came in tied for third at $20.01.

Shopping "bots"

With new e-commerce sites being erected daily, robots (shortened to bots) have been developed to find you the best deal. BotSpot lists all of the various types of bots, including ones that will search for information, but my two favorite shopping bots are mySimon and Jango. It's simple. I asked mySimon to find flowers to send to my wife for our anniversary and it located 185 online stores that would send arrangements from $24.95 (3 roses in a vase) to $179.95 (2 dozen top quality, long stemmed roses in a "beautiful glass vase"). One click takes you to the site and ordering is straightforward.

Travel

Travel sites were one of the first to appear. Ranging from full-service travel (airline tickets, hotels, tours) to discount auctions, you can arrange all travel from your PC. My favorites for full service are travelocity, travelzoo and expedia. One great feature is that you can use these services to check on flight times and then book through your travel agent if that is more to your liking. For travel auctions, the hands-down favorite is priceline.com. You tell priceline your travel dates and travel destinations and the most you are willing to spend and it will try to find airline tickets. Beware! Once priceline finds tickets that meet your requirements, they are yours. No refunds, even if your flight leaves at 7 AM and makes three stops on the way.

Auctions

At thousands of sites you can bid on products as you would at a live auction. You first establish an account (name, address, phone, username and password are the norm) and then bid on products. The bidding is live, with the site telling you the bidding history and the time remaining. You are notified by e-mail if you have been overbid, and when the auction closes, you are notified by e-mail if you have won. Arrangements for payment are made between the seller and buyer via e-mail, usually by cashier's check or money order. My favorites are amazon.com and e-bay (which has nearly 2,000,000 auction items).

Additional E-Commerce

You can buy and sell stocks (Ameritrade, etrade, eschwab), purchase music (cdnow, amazon.com), buy toys (e-toys and most shopping malls) and compare software prices (egghead.com, computershopper.com). In fact, you really can get anything you want ...

Mental Health Considerations

Recently, Dr. Weil and I have done a number of interviews about e-commerce turning into an addictive behavior for some people. It is not a large problem yet, but it will become more prevalent as more people go online. The online medium is both new and seductive. Because the web is active, colorful and multi-media, it has an engaging, almost riveting quality. It is not uncommon to sit down to surf for just a few minutes and to re-emerge several hours later. People simply lose track of time in this enticing world. Now, add in shopping online, comparison pricing, and bidding on auctions and you have the makings of an addiction.

So, how do you help your clients stay healthy and still enjoy the benefits of the web? First, tell them to set clear, unbreakable limits on time spent surfing, or shopping, and firm monetary spending limits. Use a clock that has a loud alarm to ring 5-10 minutes before the time limit and then another to ring at the time limit. Second, remember the "Can/Should Paradox": just because you can do something, should you? Sure, you can bid on that basket of Beanie Babies, but can you afford the final price? If you saw them at the store, would you have money to make the purchase?

Finally, be a good spouse, friend or parent and keep track of any warning signs of online addiction -- excessive hours online, changing screens when another person walks near the computer, increasingly large amounts of e-mail, busy telephone signals, change in sleeping habits (staying up late or rising early), notes with web addresses, excessive thoughts and conversations about being online, and constantly checking the computer.

Be careful out there! The web is a wonderful tool, but you must control it and not let it control you.

E-COMMERCE SITE

WEB ADDRESS

Acses

www.acses.com

Amazon.com

www.amazon.com

America Online

www.aol.com

Ameritrade

www.ameritrade.com

Barnes and Noble

www.barnesandnoble.com

Best Buy

www.bestbuy.com

BotSpot

www.botspot.com

Catalog City

www.catalogcity.com

ComputerShopper

www.computershopper.com

Earthlink Mall

www.earthlink.net

eBay

www.ebay.com

Egghead

www.egghead.com

e-toys

www.etoys.com

E*Trade

www.etrade.com

ESchwab

www.eschwab.com

Expedia

www.expedia.com

Jango

www.jango.com

L.L. Bean

www.llbean.com

MySimon

www.mysimon.com

Priceline

www.priceline.com

Travelocity

www.travelocity.com

Travel Zoo

www.travelzoo.com

Yahoo Store

www.yahoo.com


Copyright, 1999, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.