Retail is one of the more visible market sectors on the Web. In retail, merchants sell products and services directly to a buyer. E-retail, also called e-tail, occurs when retailers use the Web to sell their products and services (Sanchez 16). E-retailers constantly challenge the old ways of conducting business as they bring new products and services to the market. All retailers, however, operate in a similar manner.
A customer (consumer) visits an online business at the Web equivalent of a showroom: the electronic storefront. The electronic storefront, also called an online catalog, is the Web site where an e-retailer displays its products. It contains descriptions, graphics, and sometimes product reviews. After browsing through the merchandise, the customer makes a selection. This activates a second area of the store known as the shopping cart. The shopping cart is a software component on the Web that allows the customer to collect purchases. Items in the cart can be added. Deleted, or even saved for a future visit.
When ready to complete the sale, the customer proceeds to the checkout. At this, the customer enters personal and financial data through a secure Internet connection. The transaction and financial data automatically are verified at a banking Web site. If the bank approves the transaction, the customer receives an online confirmation notice of the purchase.
Then, the e-retailer processes the order and sends it to the fulfillment center where it is packaged and shipped. The e-retailer notifies the bank of the shipment, and payment is sent via electronic channels to the e-retailer. Inventory systems are updated. Shipping information is posted in the Web, so the customer can track the order. The customer typically receives the order a few days after the purchase (Microsoft Word 2002 Project 2).
E-retailing presents a new way to shop. The store is open 24 hours a day. With a few clicks of the mouse, consumers can compare prices easily. The key rule for purchasing online is the same as for traditional purchases. That is, the best consumer is the best-informed consumer.