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Tomorrow Today

Online shopping goes mainstream

person at computer
A growing number of U.S. retailers have Web sites  

Windows Media 28K 56K
December 3, 1998
Web posted at: 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- If you've ventured out to do holiday shopping, you've probably noticed the crowded stores and thought it was business as usual. But buying habits are drastically changing.

More people are participating in what's being called electronic commerce, or e-commerce. Simply put, it means people are buying goods through the Internet.

Two years ago, just 8 percent of U.S. retailers had sales Web sites. Now, more than 25 percent have them.

If you're wondering whether its safe to make online purchases, experts say you have few worries.

"There is really very little fraud that takes place," said Tim Bajarin, a technology analyst.

"We're moving toward an Internet economy," Bajarin said. "Whether people understand it or not, we're moving to a place where as much as 50 percent of all our purchases will be done over the Internet in the next five years."

Some consumers still skittish

credit cards
The fear of hackers gaining access to credit card numbers stops some from shopping online

Veterans of Internet shopping go beyond the typical electronic commerce, or e-commerce, Web sites. Many buy goods from individuals, and from increasingly popular auction Web sites. Before plunging into this type of transaction, it's important to check out who you dealing with.

Internet shopping sites encrypt, or scramble, credit card information, which makes it harder for hackers to access.

But retailers realize some consumers are still skittish about on-line purchases. Some executives say that it will take time to build consumer confidence.

"I think a lot of people in the initial days of the ATM (automatic teller machine) were afraid to use the ATM; they wanted to go in and talk to a teller," said Brent Rusick of the online retailer "And I think it is just a matter of people being comfortable using their credit card on-line."

Steps to boost security

Experts say there are things you can do to boost your security online:

  • Stick with brands you know, and with companies that have established reputations.

  • Take time to comparison shop, and make certain of the total price, shipping costs, return and cancellation policies.

  • Beware of offers from unsolicited e-mail, also known as "spam."

  • Don't judge reliability by the bells and whistles on a Web site; remember, anyone can create a Web site.

Experts suggest you shop around before buying on the Internet  

If you question the legitimacy of a Web site, you can search for complaints by checking the Internet Fraud Watch Web site , or

The Better Business Bureau is also online.

Some online businesses, like bookseller Barnes and Noble, are so confident of their security that they offer guarantees.

"If anything was ever to go wrong, and it never has in 18 months, we would stand behind it and cover that customer on any transaction," said Jeff Killeen of Barnes and Noble.

Correspondent Marsha Walton contributed to this report.

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