Yes, there's stacks to buy on the Internet - wine, CDs, books, lingerie, flowers, real estate, second-hand goods, cars, travel - almost at all, apart from a haircut, and often at a discounted price. However, online shopping hasn't taken off as quickly as many predicted. The theory behind online shopping is sound. The vendors can afford to offer discounts because they are saving on office or shop rental, staff and sales commissions. The purchasers can save time and money by buying direct from their home or office computer. It sounds a simple and workable system, but I believe there are three main reason why Internet shopping hasn't boomed yet.
Firstly, there's credit card security. While in most cases your transactions would be with creditable companies and your credit card details would be as safe as when you hand over your card in a shop, there is still a mental barrier to throwing your details into the wild and woolly world of cyberspace.
Secondly, what can appear to be a bargain may not be because of postage and handling charges or the currency exchange rate. A CD from an online store in the USA may look good value at, say, US$13.00 but our current peso-like exchange rate takes that to around A$26. Add in the freight and the price is around what you would pay in a retail outlet here and, in a traditional outlet, you can get it now, not have to wait a week or two.
Finally, I believe a lot of e-tailers ignored the fact that people actually enjoy traditional shopping! Call me old-fashioned, but I like to try on the shoes I want to buy, read the label on a bottle of wine and feel the tomatoes at the grocers. I also like interacting with real people, and being out and about in my community as well as getting a bit of exercise on the side.
Having said that, there are some e-tailers doing quite well, and some that will, given time. While Amazon (the world's biggest online book store) has lost millions of dollars due to capital outlay and has shed a lot of staff, the company still offers discounts on latest releases, an extensive back catalogue, interviews with authors, reviews, a gift certificate and easy-to-use search engine. I noticed recently that Amazon will start charging publishers to have their books recommended in the promotional e-mails it sends to customers. According to the Wall Street Journal the fee could be as much as US$10,000 for each title. Amazon shares dropped 80% in 2000 but, with added revenue streams to their core business, this could be one stock worth watching.
Some companies are also worth keeping an eye on. ColesMyer, for example, is committed to growing its online operation steadily and, while not in profit at the time of writing, had seen growth of 28% and sales of $146 million in the six months to end January 2001. When you consider ColesMyer already pockets one in five retail dollars (through K-Mart, Target, Coles, Myer, Liquorland, Vintage Cellars, Bi-Lo, Officeworks etc.), it already has a huge customer base to work on. I also see an increase in online shopping for groceries, especially for people who are time-poor and can order from work to have it delivered that evening, and it must be a boon for people with disabilities.
Online shopping can also appeal to people challenged by distance or choice. There's a woman who lives in New York who buys her elderly mother's groceries online and gets them delivered to her mum's home in Sydney; and I know of expatriates in Third World countries who do their Christmas shopping online and have the presents gift-wrapped and delivered to their families and friends in Australia.