Thu, Dec 25, 2008 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Online shopping addicts help keep retailers afloat

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Individuals who spend their free time at home in front of a computer screen — often called “home boys” (zhainan, 宅男) or “home girls” (zhainv, 宅女) — may be playing a role in helping online businesses weather the global economic downturn.

An annual survey on Internet use released on Friday found that nearly half of the nation’s 13.71 million Internet users aged 12 and older are online shoppers, with the total value of their purchases over the past year reaching an estimated NT$85 billion (US$2.62 billion).

While this represents only about 1 percent of all domestic consumption, it is a niche that seems to be recession-proof.

“Home girls” like Cindy, contribute to this total.

As soon as she leaves work, Cindy jumps on a bus to get home before rush hour.

Once at home, she immediately switches on her computer to access a bulletin board system, where she places an order for a pair of shoes together with other online shoppers before a 7pm deadline.

“What could be more important than this?” Cindy asked, explaining that she made the joint order with other shoppers for 30 pairs of shoes from one vendor, so she could get a pair she had long coveted for only NT$1,500, or 30 percent off the regular price.

Buying goods online, Cindy says, is no different from going out and shopping at regular outlets — and it gives her the freedom to follow her own inclinations.

To make her online shopping more convenient, Cindy bought a card reader that lets her use an online ATM system to pay for purchases.

In her early 20s and having just started working, Cindy said she had been “living on the Internet” since college and was a perfect example of a “home girl.”

Some 30 percent to 40 percent of her spending is done online and many of her friends do their shopping in the same way.

As the weekend approaches, Cindy stocks up on food so that she can spend her off days at home, listening to music, watching movies and TV series and shopping online.

Unlike Cindy, who spends most of her income on clothing and accessories, “home boy” Eric prefers browsing for high-end electronics and bicycle parts online.

Eric said there were many online bicycle boutiques that not only served the needs of amateurs, but also professionals.

As the owner of several mountain and foldable bikes, and skilled at modifying them, Eric said one could find almost everything for bikes through online professional bicycle stores — from parts such as handlebars and pedals to accessories like headlights, bike racks, bicycle pumps and jerseys.

Eric said e-commerce was appealing because you could find detailed product descriptions, specify delivery location and time, return products during trial periods and pay online.

Like Cindy, Eric stocks up on food for the weekend so that he can spend his time online looking for good bargains.

The online purchasing market seems to be growing, despite a slump in overall retail sales.

Song Ju-ping, senior public relations manager of Yahoo Kimo Online Shopping Mall, said the e-commerce platform offered discounts that attracted repeat customers, even in a weak economy.

Song said the online shopping market had grown steadily, citing an underwear company that opened its Web site earlier this year and saw online sales of NT$12 million in October — more than it had ever sold in a month at any of its retail outlets.

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