Consumer 6 Test: On-Line Versus On-Foot

Thursday, December 16th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

This holiday more people are shopping at home on-line. Internet companies say shoppers like the convenience. Traditional stores say customers can take their gifts home with them and they don't have to pay shipping charges. The News on Six tested both options of shopping on-line and on foot.

To test both methods, we asked two women shoppers to help us out. We gave them a list of five popular products to find. One went into cyberspace, the other shopper hit the stores. "In the store, you can actually see it, touch it, get a feel for the quality and just look at it, said on foot shopper Carrie Mulder.

The first item on the list was a compact disc. We asked Mulder to search the stores for Celine Dion's new CD "All the Way - a Decade of Song." With two little children, speed is a priority for Mulder. "Getting in and out is very important to me,” she said. “Sometimes I will spend more money just to get in and out of the store. With small children, I don't have a luxury of hanging around a store to long."

Time is also a luxury for Mariellen McLean, who works full time. She often shops on-line and searched the Internet for the five items. "It’s very convenient not having to leave my house and find the exact item, color and size,” she said. “It's right there at my fingertips."

While shopping, they tracked total cost including shipping, handling, and time spent including drive time. They also included the hassle factor in looking for the item, rating it from one to five, one being the easiest. They surfed or shopped all weekend, then we compared the results.

For the compact disc, our on-foot shopper spent $16.18. It took her one hour with little hassle. It drew a one rating. Our on-line shopper found the CD faster, but spent more money. It took her six minutes and cost $18 including shipping and handling. She also gave the hassle rating a one.

The hardcover version of the book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone", was second on our shopper’s list. It cost $11.62 at the store and took about an hour to buy. It was given the hassle rating of two. McLean hit a snag on the website, so it took her 20 minutes. It cost her $12.97 with a hassle rating of four.

"It was pretty easy to find everything except for the Gameboy," she said. They both searched several stores and web sites for the third item. Both shoppers found the Pokemon Yellow Gameboy was sold out. Each scored the hassle rating at a five. "They were totally out,” said Mulder. “We were frustrated and a little disappointed. Some of the millennium games also sold out fast." She spent more than an hour looking, but couldn't find the Millennium Trivial Pursuit Game. The hassle factor scored a high five. McLean found the game in six minutes on-line for $37.94, and gave it a two on the hassle scale.

Mulder wanted a child's baseball hat, but couldn't find one. So she bought the adult-sized hat instead. It took 90 minutes, cost her $16.18 and the hassle rating drew a one. McLean, on the other hand, found the last item in nine minutes, but settled for the adult size. She spent $20 and also gave the hassle rating a one.

We added up the results for the three items that both shoppers were able to find. Our on-foot shopper spent $43.98. It took five and a half-hours to complete the list with the average hassle rating being right in the middle at 2.8. The on-line shopper spent $51.23, but the time spent was just under an hour. Even though there was a large time difference, the hassle rating was scored only a little lower at 2.6.

The biggest difference was the time it took to find the merchandise. The on-foot shopper spent over five hours, compared to just under an hour on-line. But the on-foot shopper received her merchandise right away. The on-line shopper must wait for the items to arrive. The results showed that the on-foot shopper who spent more time looking for the merchandise also saved money, and didn’t have to wait for the items.