Navigating the World-Wide Web sales

Amber Armstrong

Amber Armstrong

Anyone who has access to the Internet has endless buying power at their fingertips. Online purchases are becoming a part of modern day civilization. These purchases are predicted by many to take off and expand even more in the near future.

Some people find the Internet is a much cheaper, easier and time efficient way to shop without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Yet others feel the Internet is not a safe enough domain to place their valuable checking or credit account information.

Big Pros and Scary Cons

Even with the speculations and wariness some buyers may feel, Internet business is booming rapidly; so rapidly, in fact, that predicts online sales in the U.S. will reach about $117 billion by 2008.

Auction sites such as EBay and Overstock are gaining popularity, as well as nearly every brand name store imaginable.

Even though online purchases are increasing every year, some consumers are still hesitant to purchase online. Occupational therapy sophomore Monique Ratigan says she only shops online about once a month because of the risks involved.

“I am scared of using my credit card online. I also don’t like shopping online because I’m worried things won’t come on time or won’t fit,” Ratigan says.

According to the National Internet Fraud Watch Information Center, the average loss to fraud victims was $895 in 2003, up $368 from the previous year.

Seniors aged 60 or older consist of 8% of fraud victims in 2004, and usually get stung by organizations posing as lottery clubs, information and adult services and Nigerian money offers.

To practice safety with online purchases, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a list of safely tips. First, the FTC suggests using a secure browser that complies with security standards such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). The browser scrambles the information entered on the Web site so hackers cannot easily intercept confidential information from consumers.

Most computers come with these browsers, but if it is not included with your computer, many are available to download online for free.

The FTC also suggests shopping with known companies. These companies strive to keep their Web sites secure and will work to maintain security in order to gain or retain your business.

When unsure whether or not a site is secure, the FTC suggests requesting a paper brochure with a list of the online-company’s products.

Keep your passwords private. Be creative when coming up with a password, and don’t share it with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers to create a password only you would know.

Using birth dates, addresses or telephone numbers are generally not advised because it makes it much easier for a hacker to break into your account.

Pay with a credit card. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, a consumer has the right to dispute charges made on their account under certain circumstances. Payment can even be withheld during the deliberations.

Also, if a credit card is used illegally to make a purchase, the card-holder will only have to pay a maximum of $50 dollars in damages in most cases.

The FTC also suggests keeping a record of your online purchases. When an order is placed, a confirmation page that includes a list of purchases along with a confirmation number and contact information is mailed to your email account. In the event of a mix-up, this information is crucial.

I Like It!

There are several advantages to buying online, which could be why the market is growing so quickly. With online banking, the consumer can surf the Internet, comparing prices much easier than driving around town to price hunt. Internet shopping can be done at any time because the Internet is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and all purchases can be done from the comfort of your home.

Disabled people who may not be able to travel or move around easily, can take advantage of online shopping which makes the internet more accessible to them by making it possible to order from their home. Online shopping can make it easier to find that specialized item most retail stores around town do not carry. Also, there is no pressure from persistent salesclerks or long lines with online shopping.

I Don’t Like It!

With the advantages come the disadvantages. With online shopping, the consumer can only see a picture of an item they are contemplating. By not being able to see the actual object, many online consumers complain they felt an item they purchased was misrepresented.

“I like to see what I am getting before I buy it,” says freshman Zach Kambel.

Some may even see problems with security. Several consumers still worry about giving out personal information over the web, for fear of being hacked or having their identity stolen.

Penny Brandt, a junior family and consumer science student, feels that shopping online isn’t nearly as good as going to a store, because you don’t feel the instant gratification of buying something right then and there.

“Online purchasing is easily accessible but by the time you get what you ordered, you’ve forgotten you’ve ordered it so it’s like getting a present,” Brandt says.

It may take weeks to receive a purchase in the mail.

The New Way – Ebay

EBay has transformed the way consumers shop online. EBay was the first major online bidding Web site, with a myriad of objects being added or sold every day. EBay is free to use, but has no problem bringing in profits.

According to the IT Facts Web site, 95 million EBay buyers sold 7.5 billion worth of goods in 2003, for a profit of 2.7 billion for the auction site. Potential buyers comb the Web site either by category or specific keywords to find objects anywhere from pictures to wishing sticks and everything in between.

To buy an item, objects are put up for a minimum bid by an independent individual or company. Potential buyers then bid on the object until the allotted time ends. The person with the highest bid at the end of the auction wins that object.

The seller and buyer then arrange a place for the object to be sent and the buyer can pay the seller by mailing a money order or using PayPal.

PayPal is a service that allows online buyers to deposit money directly into a seller’s personal PayPal account, with a small fee to the seller. Few businesses will accept personal checks.

Along with auction Web sites, one of the most common online purchases Internet users make are hotel reservations.

The IT Facts Web site suggests that between 50 and 75 percent of hotel reservations were made online in 2003.

Selling Books Online

Along with clothes and music online, many students take advantage of textbook buyback web sites. These sites are set up to buy old books that students either couldn’t sell back to the school bookstore or wouldn’t get much even if they did.

Sophomore Kiel Wirth says he sold his used textbooks online. Wirth says he didn’t get much money for them, but it was better than nothing.

“I sold my books on eBay because the campus bookstore wasn’t buying that book back anymore,” says Wirth.

Sites like and are set up so a student can type in the book’s ISBN number (located on the back cover) and get a quote as to how much the site is willing to give on that particular book.

Some Web sites, including the two mentioned previously, offer free shipping so all the student has to do is pack up their old books and send them on their way. These sites promise a quick check of compensation in the mail.

Online Taxes

The issue of taxing online purchases remains a controversial subject with lawmakers and consumers alike.

According to, there is not currently a tax on access services such as America Online or EarthLink, nor is there sales tax on items bought off the Internet.

The federal government has put a ban on the taxation of access services until 2007 in most states. The movement for the taxation of access services argues that not having a tax grants greater access to the internet, while others argue the services must be taxed to reimburse the government for revenue losses.

Sales tax is also a heated discussion topic among lawmakers this year. Presently, there is no sales tax on items bought on the Internet. State and local governments protest the $16 billion a year that is lost on uncollected sales tax on items purchased online.

So, instead of waiting for Congress to come up with a solution, 32 states have joined together to form the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, which is designed to establish uniform definitions for taxable goods and a model for collecting sales tax across state lines, as described by

Senior broadcast major Jamie Mack has no problem with the implementation of a sales tax on items purchased online.

“I think they should because all taxes, sales or any other kind of tax, help to fund this country and I think they are very necessary,” he says.

Landscape architecture junior, Jeremy Hoffman, disagrees.

“It’s cheaper the way it is now, and I don’t want that to change,” Hoffman says.

Whether or not the Legislature implements a sales tax over online purchases, sales are continuing to rise. With busy lifestyles and overcrowded department stores and super centers, many feel shopping from the comfort of their home is an advantage.

Many students interviewed say they see online shopping becoming more popular and well-utililized in the future.

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