Shopping on the Internet

This is Mary Tillotson. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. It is the holiday gift-giving season in the United States. More and more people are using their computers and the Internet to buy their holiday gifts. Today we tell how the computer and the Internet are changing the way people buy products.

In nineteen-ninety-five, a small company began selling books from its headquarters in the western city of Seattle, Washington. It was an unusual company. It did not have a store you could visit. The only way you could buy a book from the company was to use a computer linked with the Internet.

The name of the company is Amazon-dot-com. It was one of the first businesses to offer products for sale using the Internet. The company made it easy to buy almost any book you wanted. You used your computer to link with the company so you could read about many different books. When you found the book you wanted, you placed an order and typed the number of your credit card to pay for it. A worker at the Amazon Company placed the book in a box and usually mailed it to you the next day. It was really very simple.

Buying products using a computer and the Internet seemed very unusual in nineteen-ninety-five. At first, many people did not think is was safe to type their credit card information on the Internet. However, buying a book from Amazon.com was very easy. For many people, buying a book from Amazon.com was their first attempt at buying anything on the Internet.

Today, Amazon.com sells books to millions of people in more than two-hundred-twenty countries. It is one of the most successful companies linked to the Internet. And, Amazon no longer sells just books. It sells toys, music, games, electronic equipment, and even computers.

Because of Amazon.com's success, many other companies began selling products with the aid of a computer linked to the Internet. Some of the first were other book companies, like Barnes and Noble. Today, thousands of large and small companies offer their products on the Internet. Buyers use their computers to order and pay for products. The company sends the products to the buyers. A few companies offer many more things on their Web sites than in their stores. For example, Barnes and Noble offers more than one-million books, far more than in any one store.

Business experts say buying products using the Internet is becoming increasingly popular. They say buying on the Internet has increased as much as thirty-six percent over last year. Experts say people spent almost ten-thousand-million dollars buying products on the Internet during the first nine months of this year.

Buyers are expected to spend almost fourteen-thousand-million dollars more during the last three months of this year. This large increase in buying is because of the holiday gift-giving season. The holiday buying season in the United States usually begins the day after Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November. It continues until Christmas Day, December twenty-fifth.

Many stores in the United States depend on the holiday season for as much as fifty percent of their yearly profits. A poor holiday season for a store can cause serious financial problems. Many businesses quickly learned they could increase their holiday sales by offering their products on the Internet.

Buying products with the aid of a computer is a quickly expanding sales idea. However, the idea of buying a product without ever visiting the store is not new. Only the method of buying has changed. This method of business has a very old name. It is called "mail order."

In eighteen-eighty-six, a young man named Richard Sears bought several watches. Mr. Sears worked for the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad Company. He sold the watches to other railroad workers. He soon hired a young watchmaker named Alvah Roebuck to make more watches. The Sears and Roebuck Watch Company soon settled in Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck knew that the majority of Americans lived on farms. They did not live close to stores where they could buy the products they needed.

The Sears and Roebuck Watch Company soon began offering many other products that could be bought from their Chicago store. The Sears and Roebuck company could offer products for much less money than local stores.

In eighteen-ninety-five, the Sears and Roebuck Company began printing a book that listed the products the company sold. The book had five-hundred-thirty-two pages.

This kind of book is called a catalog. The Sears and Roebuck Catalog offered for sale almost every kind of equipment a farmer might need. It also offered clothing and shoes for men, women and children. It offered stoves, tables, chairs, glassware and bicycles. People could buy firearms, rings, watches, toys and many, many other products. The huge catalog had pictures of the products and told how to order and pay for the products. The Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalog was really the sales computer of its day.

Perhaps the most unusual product ever sold by the Sears and Roebuck Company was a house. From nineteen-oh-eight until nineteen-forty, the Sears and Roebuck Company offered several different sized houses that could be ordered through the catalog. Each house arrived at the nearest railroad station. It came with everything needed to build the house -- more than thirty-thousand parts.

This included wood, paint, nails electric wire, pipes for water and a seventy-five page book. The book told how to build the house. Sears, Roebuck and Company sold more than seventy-five-thousand of these built-it-yourself homes.

Other companies also sold this kind of house. Perhaps the most famous of these houses is the one in California where former President Richard Nixon was born. That house is now part of the President Richard Nixon Library at Yorba Linda, California.

The Sears company still prints several different catalogs. People can read about a product in the catalog and buy it by calling Sears on the telephone. They can also link with the company on the Internet and buy the product. Shoppers can pay extra money to have the product sent to their home, or they can pick it up at one of the many Sears stores.

The story of the Sears Company is not different from many other companies. Large companies like Sears and even very small companies now use the Internet as a business tool.

Experts who study the business use of the Internet say people buy more items for their home than any other product. This includes tables, chairs, lights, paintings, and rugs. The experts say the Internet sales of these things have increased one-hundred-forty-six percent over last year.

People ordered sixty-six percent more clothing than last year, thirty-one percent more books and twenty-five percent more electronic devices.

A huge winter storm affected much of the Eastern United States at the beginning of this month. One business report said the storm might have caused even more people to buy holiday gifts using their computers. The report said it was easier for people to buy products from their nice warm homes than to travel to a store in the middle of a snow or ice storm.

In nineteen-ninety-five when Amazon.com began selling books, few items were for sale on the Internet. That has changed greatly. Now you can buy almost anything you want. There are even companies that help private individuals sell items on the Internet. Recently a man in Santa Rosa, California, offered a Russian-built jet fighter warplane for sale.

The plane had once belonged to the Air Force of Poland. The man said he wanted at least twenty-five-thousand dollars for the aircraft. But he said the plane needed to be repaired before it could fly. And he said it no longer had its machine guns!

This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Mary Tillotson. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS – December 18, 2002: Shopping on the Internet
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