Social implications of e-Commerce on society

The social implications of e-Commerce on society have been vast up until now and even today e-Commerce continues to change the way the world does business. Consumers are buying more goods and services online than ever before and as a result, businesses have been forced to invest in e-Commerce and online strategies in order to serve customer demands and stay ahead of competition.

Changing Customer Perspective

The internet has provided lots of value for customers as they can easily shop from their home and buy goods and services from all over the world in just a few clicks. Customers can also communicate with businesses online and have their queries answered instantly by staff. Most businesses strive to provide excellent online service as they know customers often share websites and reviews with friends and if customers have a negative experience with the business online, they can easily talk about it in a public forum or on social media.

Over the years, various e-Commerce laws and regulations have been introduced to protect consumers and combined with increased awareness of security issues (such as identity theft and credit card fraud), consumers today are more educated shopping online than in the past. One such example is that of SSL / TLS technology which end users have become familiar with and recognise as a padlock symbol in their browser. If a business isn’t using this encryption technology, consumers may be wary of placing an order on the site.

Because e-Commerce is of so much value to businesses these days, a lot of focus is placed on user experience and ease of use of the website. Many businesses analyse traffic statistics and conduct tests to help improve conversion rates and ultimately profits. Simply by changing colours, moving the location of buttons or personalising the websites for users, these subtle changes can impact on sales and result in a better user experience.

Economic and social impact due to speed of changes

One big advantage e-Commerce websites have over the high street is that they are always open and ready for business and can handle huge volumes of customers coming to the site at the same time. Stock levels, prices and product descriptions can be added / removed / changed instantly and as a result businesses can rapidly adjust and react.

Online Boxing Day Sale events for example drive huge numbers of customers to websites searching for bargains and provide businesses with a great opportunity to increase sales. In recent years ‘Black Friday’ (the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US) has become something many UK retailers have adopted. The speed at which deals can be created online and websites updated means that businesses can take advantage of these big events and easily promote any offers they may have that will attract consumers. e-Commerce websites have also made it possible for pre-order events to take place online where customers can pre-order goods and services before they’re officially launched.

Many businesses that use social media will also create offers almost in real-time which are based on trending news stories. This is known as ‘reactive marketing’. This helps businesses to market themselves whilst piggybacking on a trending / viral news story. An example of this would be Nando’s chicken restaurant’s who, when they heard Sir Alex Ferguson was retiring, tweeted that they’d keep their branches open for an extra five minutes in reference to ‘Fergie Time’ – the extra time that many people felt Man Utd seemed to get under Sir Alex due to his intimidating presence on the sidelines. This single tweet was retweeted over 16,000 times and made many news headlines, generating free publicity for Nandos.

Bricks and Clicks

The term bricks and clicks refers to retailers that have both an e-commerce website and a physical store/stores where customers can collect / return items. One such example would be Argos or Halfords where customers can reserve or buy products online and collect them in store or return them to their local store for a refund if they wish.

This gives the customer the best of both worlds as they know that if they need to return items, they can do so quickly and speak directly with a staff member to resolve any problems. Many people still prefer to buy expensive and bulky items from a local store or have a point of return that is locally based as it can be expensive, time-consuming and a lot of hassle to ship bulky, expensive items back to a business abroad for example.

Pizza companies such as Dominos are also a good example of how bricks and clicks operations can benefit both consumers and businesses. A customer can order a customised pizza online, pay for it and view the progress of the Pizza online, getting alerted when the Pizza is ready to be collected. This saves the customer time that they’d otherwise spend waiting in the Pizza store and it also means the store doesn’t handle cash during the transaction so the risk of theft and fraudulent banknotes is eliminated and if the customer pays in advanced online, then there’s no danger of the customer ordering a pizza and then not showing up to collect it.

Benefits for customers

Online shopping offers customers several advantages over traditional high street shopping including:

  • ability to shop 24/7
  • convenience of being able to shop from home / on a mobile device anywhere
  • being able to search, find and buy products faster than in a traditional store
  • ease of comparing prices across multiple sites in the global market
  • free or low-cost delivery right to the customer’s doorstep

Customers who live in remote areas or who may be housebound also benefit from the ability to order products and services that they may not otherwise have had access to without a great amount of travelling and expense. For example if a person lives 10 miles from the nearest town and doesn’t drive, they’d need to get a taxi to the town and back again in order to buy products they need. The cost of the taxi coupled with the time involved may greatly outweigh the cost of online delivery and time spent shopping online for the same products.


Despite improvements in security technology and increased user awareness of common fraud tactics / techniques, there are still many businesses and customers who end up having their data stolen or compromised, including financial data. As a result, many people are still wary of shopping online as there have been high-profile cases of security breaches at various household names like Sony, Ebay, Viator, Adobe and TK Maxx.

When shopping online, another drawback is the fact you can’t feel and try on products such as clothing and shoes. As a result, quality and fit may not be as expected when ordering online which can frustrate shoppers.

Having to wait until items ship from the business and arrive to the customer can also be a drawback if the customer needs and item by a certain date. Items may get lost or delayed in the postage system which can upset customers if the items were gifts that were supposed to arrive for a loved one’s birthday or special occasion. This often happens at Christmas time when customers expect items to be delivered before Christmas but sometimes, for various reasons, the items may not arrive until after Christmas.

The fact that e-Commerce websites generally require less staff to operate than a traditional high street store is great for businesses who may be trying to reduce costs, but this can also negatively impact on employment where the numbers of staff required to keep a business operational may be significantly less than if the business were simply operating traditional stores.