Why do we buy things on the internet?

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As the years roll on and our mobile phone usage grows and grows, many of us will start to forget - if we ever knew - what life was like before the internet. The phenomenon that is eCommerce, AKA the ability to buy just about anything at the click of a button, has so firmly embedded itself in our lives that we now do it every day. In fact, research shows that the up and coming generations have little desire to go into bricks-and-mortar stores; simply preferring to buy almost everything online and leading to the closure of more than half of America’s shopping malls.

So ingrained is online shopping in our lives that few of us stop to think why we actually do it. Is it just habit? Is it as easy as we think? Do the benefits really stack up?

Let’s find out.

Where it all began

Who pioneered eCommerce? Most of us would say it was Jeff Bezos in the early 1990s, but there were a few notable milestones before then.

Over a decade before Amazon exploded onto our screens, Michael Aldrich did something quite clever: he connected a modified domestic television to a multi-use transaction processing computer. Marketed in 1980 as the world’s first ‘teleshopping’ experience, Alrich’s B2B purchasing method was a hit and was quickly sold in the UK, Ireland and Spain.

From a B2C perspective, the first recorded transaction was even earlier: there are reports that in 1972, MIT students were using their Arpanet accounts to buy and sell marijuana.

Yet unsurprisingly, it was only with the invention of the internet that eCommerce started to take off. In 1992, Charles Stack began a dial-up bulletin board to sell books (this eventually became Books.com and was then acquired by Barnes and Noble).

A year later, the New York Times ran an article entitled ‘The Internet is Open’ and chronicled the purchase of a CD online between 2 friends. It was then time for the world to meet Amazon: Bezos launched this in early 1994.

Another innovation - one that we all fondly remember - helped pave the way for our current online shopping addiction. Back in the early 90s, AOL and CompuServe created what was effectively their own ‘walled gardens’ - proprietary mark-up and display system that allowed users to shop online safely, and faster than what was available through other HTML sites at the time.

Using their systems, AOL and CompuServe created the tools that would become the hallmarks of our current online shopping system, including payment platforms, email marketing, bundling and free shipping. They even had their own autofill of sorts: they linked the credit card you had on file to pay for your AOL service to their shopping partners, making checkout easier and more secure. In the years between when shoppers discovered online shopping in the early 90s, and 1998 when it really took off, AOL and CompuServe helped prepared the world for what was to come.

So why do we love online shopping so much?

17 years have passed and a lot has changed since Amazon and AOL entered the picture. We now spend an incredible USD $3,453 billion on the internet every year. 1.66 billion people globally now shop online, with 80% of the entire US population now partaking in it (as opposed to just 22% back in 2000). And these figures are only set to increase - experts predict that eCommerce will continue to grow at unprecedented rates all over the globe.

With figures like this, it’s easy to forget what lured us to online shopping in the first place. So why do we do it?

Online shopping expands our marketplace

Before we could shop on the internet, we were (more or less) geographically restricted with what we could procure. Basically, if we could drive to a store to get it, we could have it, or maybe, if the shop owner was nice, they could order it from somewhere else for us. But outside of that, our shopping options were rather narrow.

Now? Not so. The internet allows us to buy anything, from anywhere, at anytime. We can now order everything from traditionally crafted African furniture, to electronics direct from Asia, to handmade goods from every continent on Etsy. The internet has shifted our marketplace from local to global - and we can now have whatever we want.

We can now get the best price

In pre-internet days, stores could basically charge whatever a consumer would pay. As long as they were selling their product, it really didn’t matter what their competitor charged, as long as the end consumer didn’t find out they were selling it cheaper.

Nowadays, price wars are at their most fierce. From a customer perspective, we can now create our own ‘best price guarantee’ by browsing a few websites and finding the online store that’s selling our product the cheapest.

Paying is safe and incredibly easy

With the explosion of financing options and credit card payments, paying for goods online and offline hasn’t been that hard in the recent past. But a few decades ago, this was certainly not the case. If you wanted something, you’d literally have to nervously tiptoe to the store with wads of cash.

The internet has allowed us to pay online for things with such ease. We can enter our credit card details knowing they’ll be protected, and we can also take advantage of increasingly popular, modern-day layby options such as Klarna, Affirm, Zip Pay or Afterpay. What’s not to love?!?

We no longer have to rely on word of mouth to gauge quality

Some time ago, if you wanted to know whether a product was any good, you’d have to ask a friend or two and hope their experience was what you’d get.

Now? You don’t need to hope anymore, you can just go online and check out product reviews/Google reviews/Facebook reviews. The aggregate power of the masses can definitively tell you if what you want is any good.

Internet reviews have democratized just about everything we do or buy. From a consumer perspective, though, that’s a good thing - we can now find out before we buy something whether it will meet our standards.

It’s just so convenient

Of all the reasons we shop on the internet, one stands out as the most compelling and that is, shopping on the internet is just so...damn...convenient.

Before online shopping, it would take you a minimum of an hour to buy something - you’d have to drive to a shop, park, go into the store, find what you wanted, take it to the counter to ring it up and then return home. And that was the process if you knew what you wanted. If you didn’t, you’d have to add trying to find it, and trying it on/out, before you bought it.

You can now perform that entire process in less than 5 minutes online by reviewing a few ads on your Instagram or Facebook feed, selecting what you want and then you’re all done.

Or, you should be done.

With all the convenience that internet shopping provides us, it falls down in one major place and that is: when we try and shop on our mobile (which we do a lot, by the way. More than half of all eCommerce purchases happen on a mobile, and that number is predicted to increase exponentially over the coming years).

So why is shopping on a mobile not as convenient as it should be?

One of the most important reasons is that once we’ve put items into our online shopping cart, we then have to spend time (and usually a lot of time, let’s be honest) trying to fill out our details into itty-bitty form fields on our mobiles. This struggle no doubt contributes to the fact that 86% of us will abandon our merchandise, leading to a lousy 1.55% conversion rate for retailers.

This frustrating mobile issue means that online shopping can’t deliver on one of its biggest promises - to be convenient. But could there be a solution?

A more convenient solution?

If we look at our mobile shopping journey, which usually starts with a prompt via a shopping app or social media, there is a solution that could help the internet deliver on its promise of convenience and that is: intelligent autofill.

Right now, convenience is only partially or sporadically available to us: either where we’ve previously shopped at a given retailer and they have our details, or where our browser autofills our details (not a great solution, given that browser autofills are only 53% accurate at most).

But that could all change if social media sites or shopping apps invested in intelligent autofill, like that available from Fillr. If they did, convenience could make a swift return - with Fillr, we could checkout up to 37 times faster (with 98% accuracy). Essentially ‘instant checkout’ anywhere and everywhere!

Intelligent autofill...the missing piece

Most of us are incredibly thankful for all of the benefits that online shopping has brought to our lives. Convenience, though, is a big part of that so it’s high time that intelligent autofill made its debut.

Fillr has developed ‘Autofill as a Service’, the world’s most intelligent and accurate autofill that seamlessly integrates into your app.
Contact us today to find out how our technology can help your customers to transact faster and more effectively across millions of merchants sites, boosting your conversions and revenue. Fillr is powering transactions on the world's top ecommerce and meta search apps, software platforms and phone manufacturers.