Online has to play catch-up

2012-02-08 12:22

One of the fantastic promises of the internet is the world-wide market, where you can buy things cheaper than your local stores because companies online wouldn't need the storefronts and staff of conventional shops.

Shopping from home, you punch in your list and it gets delivered to you from anywhere in the world, at a lower cost than you could have bought it because you completely cut out the middleman.

That's not my experience.

In fact, for things that I've bought, online has often turned out to be more expensive that traditional stores.

Recently, I shopped for an i3 laptop: Couldn't find it for less than R5 000 online, although I must say that I limited my search to South African vendors.

To my astonishment, a great deal was sitting on the shelf in a local Computer Mania and Incredible Connection (no plug for them).

For digital toys, there is some help with websites like Pricecheck, but you are on your own when you want to buy more ordinary things - like chocolate cake. Well, not cake really, but things like boats or balls (the soccer kind).

The cheapest place I found an inflatable boat was Sportsman's Warehouse. Walked into the store, picked up the box and walked out. Done.

Online, the best company in terms of price and range was SeaEagle.com and I would have bought one from them, but the shipping to South Africa cost almost as much as the boat.

Even something like wine, sold from SA all over the world, is available online for about R50 a bottle for the cheap stuff, but R20 at your local Pick n Pay. It all tastes the same after two glasses.

Now, of course I understand that we're still "in the early days" and "it will become more universal" but businesses give the impression that they would prefer to view the internet with suspicion and disregard the online market that exists if only they took it seriously.

Perhaps established distribution channels in SA are too entrenched and it will take someone with balls (not the soccer kind) to give it a run for the money, but until then find me paddling down the river without paddles, with a bottle for company, offline.

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