From zip drives to four-wheel drives, deals abound on the World Wide Web. It’s hassle-free haven for bargain hunters and penny pinchers. Millions of Americans are now regular online shoppers who expect the lowest prices possible for the best merchandise available. “You’ll find a lot of competitive pricing,” says Fran Foster, the Internet section manager of the Software Publishers association in Washington, D.C. “Many companies no longer have the traditional costs related to maintaining physical storefronts and can consequently pass savings along to consumers.”
For Geri Handon, a 40-year-old artists software prep tester in Seattle, shopping on the Web has become a habit. Tow years ago, she joined the ranks of consumers lured to the Net by its convenience, cheaper prices and the ability to browse from the privacy of home. “It’s easy, efficient and cost-effective, and I’ve never had to wait more than a week for any delivery,” says Handon, one of the many cybershoppers who prowl the Net for computer equipment and software.
Internet research firms have been scrambling to quantify this lucrative and growing market segment. Forrester Research, an information technology research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, estimates that online consumers spend $4 million on computer products each day. The IT research firm says that 20% of online adults have made purchases over the Net in the last year. In 1997, Net purchases totaled $2.4 billion, and Forrester estimates that figure will reach $17.4 billion by 2001.
Clearly, the online retail market is growing as consumers feel more comfortable with this new medium. Travel, entertainment, books, music and computer hardware and software are the hottest areas.
Travel is the fastest-growing segment of online commerce. According to Jupiter Communications in New York, online travel revenues are expected to grow to $11.7 billion by 2002–making it the No. 1 consumer spending segment. For veteran surfers who book their travel online, low fares are taken for granted and paying the full market value for a ticket is virtually unheard of.
Priceline (www.priceline.com) is a new service that lets you submit the price you’re willing to pay for a specific domestic route. It promises to find a flight within one hour. Travelocity (www.travelocity.com), Preview Travel (www.preview travel.com) and Microsoft’s Expedia (www.expediaucom) allow you to compare and analyze flight information that, until a few years ago, was available only to travel agents. These sites also feature “faretracker,” e-mail newsletters that let you sign up for bulletins listing the cheapest flights available for popular destinations. Expedia is the most comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing of all online travel sites. It offers the aforementioned perks and also includes maps, photographs and the best fare-tracking service available on the Net.
Last year, when Geri Handon needed to fly from Seattle to Arkansas, she checked out Travelocity. She found a round-trip ticket selling for nearly $100 off the “lowest price” she was quoted on the phone. The site also lets you mix and match destinations, dates and airlines.
The major airlines are also on the Web, alerting travelers to last-minute specials and enabling them