What’s the Internet really for?

The Christmas sales figures are rolling in, and despite the heady predictions of recent years, online shopping will never replace face-to-face retail. Online education is very effective in many situations, but we aren’t likely to see the classroom demolished any time soon. The number of online chat groups and communities will continue to grow, but only those with a real sense of purpose and sharing will prosper.

A survey carried out during the holiday shopping season demonstrates how the Internet is being defined. Researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that noncommercial activities were far more popular than online shopping this year. These include finding holiday information, tips and ideas for celebrating, e-mail, and e-greetings. As researchers noted, the real Internet story during the holidays was a social one, despite the ups and downs of the online retail sector.

Open for business online
Retail obviously has a place online, and some companies have already found it. The “overnight” success of Canadian Tire’s website, which only opened for business in time for the Christmas 2000 shopping period, offers a good Canadn example. Like many of its competitors, Canadian Tire could have been online a lot sooner. Instead, one of Canada’s oldest and largest retailers chose to wait until it could provide the same kind of service to online shoppers as it does to those who shop in the stores.

The website is designed to look and feel like a Canadian Tire store. The annoying product shortages that plague many popular websites are non-existent at Canadian Tire. Their solution is simple: if a product is “out-of-stock,” it is not listed on the website. And maybe best of all, online shoppers can exchange or return merchandise at any Canadian Tire store across Canada.

A Canadian Tire spokesman says the company adopted this careful approach to its online shopping service because it views its website as an additional way to shop, rather than the only way. The company is also very careful to protect its well-earned reputation as a reliable retailer. Sears Canada is another company that has enjoyed online sales success, mainly because it applied its retail expertise to the Internet.

An addition – not a replacement
Is the Internet changing the way we live? Definitely, but it is now clear that it is only an addition to our already numerous lifestyle choices. As VCRs did not replace movie theatres, which themselves were not replaced by television, the Internet is emerging as a unique medium that offers specific benefits for information, entertainment, business, and new communities such as the one here at 50plus.com. A place for everything, and everything in its place.