Consumer lifestyle has changed rapidly with technical developments in society. E-commerce, driven by internet, has significantly changed the way people do shopping. Online access has enabled people to bring entire libraries, shopping stores and entertainment venues to the desktops and pockets of consumers. The main reason behind the increasing popularity of e-shopping is the convenience it brings to average shoppers. Now, consumers have the liberty to shop at any time and from anywhere through various modes of e-shopping available at the click of a key on their computers, tablets and mobile phones. However, in order to have a smooth shopping experience, the quality of internet services is very significant. Poor internet speed can hinder the pleasure of shopping and the process could even fail halfway if internet connectivity is not reliable. Therefore, good internet speed and reliable connectivity are important to having a smooth online shopping experience.

A recently concluded study on “Impact of Quality of Internet Service (QoIS) on Internet users” by Consumer VOICE has revealed many insights on consumers’ online shopping behaviour. The study is based on a sample of 52,000 internet users in 18 states and covers the impact of the quality of service on aspects of life. 

There are numerous mobile apps and websites available through which a consumer can do shopping from across the borders. These apps and websites are namely Flipkart, Amazon, Shopclues, Snapdeal, ebay, Myntra, and Jabong etc. Consumers can buy clothes, gadgets, shoes, appliances, groceries, etc from online stores. Shopping websites and apps facilitate consumers to shop for any product at any time of the day from any location. But these shopping websites are generally heavy and require fast speed and reliable internet connection.

E-commerce has had an immense impact on consumer empowerment as it ensures wider choices and competitive prices across a wide array of products. It becomes easy for the consumer to compare the prices of the same product on different sites and purchase a product which has the lowest price. However, in order to open more than one site, one should have good quality of internet service in order to have a smooth shopping experience.

Online shopping has increased the consumer surplus. Conventional shopping includes the charges of travelling, eating out, car parking, etc. But consumer can get rid of all these expenses by shopping online. 

Online shopping has also contributed to saving the time of consumers. There is no need to go to shopping malls at distant places for shopping. Online shopping takes less than 5 minutes to select and purchase items, if internet quality is good. But a visit to a shopping mall or bazaar can take from 5 minutes to 5 hours. 

A consumer can purchase several brands and products from different sellers at one place. So variety is not an issue in online shopping. Various clothing brands for different age groups are available on these online stores. Similarly, many other products like shoes and groceries with different brand names are available online. 

Easy payment options have enhanced the popularity of online shopping. Online stores facilitate consumers to pay with different modes of payment like pay by debit card, credit card or through a mobile app like Paytm or even cash on delivery.

Online stores provide services all through the week. There are no holidays for these stores. But no such facility is available in conventional shopping. Shopping online has increased consumers’ freedom to purchase a product.

Key drivers for shopping: Nowadays, most consumers have broadband internet at home and 2G, 3G and 4G internet on their mobile. Increasing internet penetration, growing living standards, cheaper smart phones and increasing usage of social sites are the key drivers of online shopping.

Various aspects of shopping: The study by Consumer VOICE shows that online shopping behaviour of consumers is impacted by various aspects of shopping like the time taken by websites to open, convenient shopping time and location, online tracking of shipment, increased number of choices and getting better deals at lower prices. The quality of the internet service plays an important role as it affects the speed at which the websites and mobile apps function. If the quality is very good, the sites will open quickly. But if the quality is poor, sites may take very long to open.

Online shopping facilitates consumers to track their product online. But it is only possible with good quality of internet service. Poor quality of internet service prevents consumers from tracking products online. 

Demographic factors of shopping: Online shopping in India is significantly impacted by certain demographic factors like age, gender, education, and profession of people. 

The study revealed that though people of all age groups gave importance to the quality of internet service for smooth online shopping, school-going children gave more importance to it and thought that all aspects of shopping are badly affected by low quality of internet services.

Online shopping is an important daily activity of both men and women. Compared to women, men are somewhat more inclined to think that the quality of internet services impacts many aspects of shopping such as “time taken by websites and items to open”, “online tracking of shipments”, “convenient shopping time and location”, “increased numbers of choices” and “getting better deals or lower prices” etc.

The impact of quality of internet was regarded as being high by people with a higher education level having their own business, as also by those in private and government jobs. As they are economically established and have somewhat high purchasing power, the role of quality internet was recognised by this section of people. In contrast, housewives, students and the unemployed, with comparatively lower purchasing power, are yet to realise the role of quality of internet on online shopping. 

Online shopping is yet to see its growth in rural areas because the quality of internet services is not uniform all over India. Rural India lacks good quality internet services; on the contrary, urban areas enjoy relatively better internet speed. People in rural areas are facing problems like poor and inconsistent speed, frequent disconnection etc. The study shows that people in rural areas, where reasonably good quality of internet is available, prefer online shopping, as offline markets are situated at distant places. However, most of the rural poor indicated that the quality of internet hinders their online shopping activities.

Why others parameters are more important

Apart from impact of the quality of internet service on online shopping, the study by Consumer VOICE covered other important parameters such as daily life, travel and commuting, people with special needs, political and civic participation, business and jobs, education and research, women’s empowerment, entertainment, uplift of rural areas, health and medical services, society and digital payment. The impact of quality of internet service was found to be much higher on other aspects also such as education and research, business and jobs and safety of women. If internet disconnects at the time of online shopping, the shopper can wait for a while. But if internet disconnects during an important business meeting, it cannot be postponed. Students can fail in examinations if the internet disconnects during online examinations. Vulnerable women cannot seek help at the time of need if internet signals are poor. Therefore, in order to experience the true benefits of internet and convert India in to a truly digital country, fast and reliable internet connectivity has become the key requirement.

Prof Sri Ram Khanna is former Head and Dean of Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. Dr Arvinder Kaur is Doctorate in Economics, Research Associate, Consumer Voice, New Delhi.

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