It’s really no coincidence at all: The arrival of a an e-mail advertising blast from Amazon.com, and the New York Times‘ announcement today of a major breakthrough for online retailing. For the first time, according to a trade group, Internet sales of shoes and clothing- at $18.3 billion last year- have passed total sales of $17.2 billion for computer gear and software.
It means that, for many of us, handling and modeling the merchandise has gone out of style. Because the “freedom to return,” often at the seller’s expense, seems unlimited.
The majority of shoppers, it was feared, would never abandon the habit of trying on clothes to assess the feel of fabrics and the fit of a given size, which varies a lot by brand.
“If you are looking for a sign that online retailing has really gone mainstream, I don’t think you can find a better one than this,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the group that is releasing the report.
Online retail executives said liberal return policies and better navigation tools on their Web sites, like the ability to zoom in on and rotate the images of a $500 handbag, have bridged the once wide gap between online and offline clothes-shopping experiences.
Never accused of ignoring or failing to profit from a trend, Amazon is jumping into the shoe and handbag business, and seems ready to give the giant in that online trade, Zappos.com, a run for its money. With a separate beta site called Endless.com, Amazon is promoting an endless selection of foot- and-shoulder-wear and, if you like, an endless stream of overnight deliveries between its warehouses and your home. And how’s this for a come-on?
Limited Time Offer: Better than FREE Overnight Shipping!
Promotion extended! For a limited time, Overnight Shipping is *negative* $5. That’s right, we’ll take five dollars off your order for the privilege of shipping overnight to you. We are serious. Enjoy this special promotion while it lasts! Once the promotion is over, you can again enjoy our day-in and day-out offer of FREE Overnight Shipping.
So much for delayed gratification. Endless can send out new orders constantly, the way NetFlix and Blockbuster send out DVDs. You can have a new pair of shoes arriving daily, if you think they’ll tolerate it. (If you send them all back, of course, they probably won’t.)
Oh, Brave New World of retailing, when buying shoes online becomes pedestrian. And when, in the battle for Web footwear supremacy, voting with one’s feet takes on a whole new meaning.