You may not know it, but today is Internet Shopping Day. The UK's ever-growing population of Net users is being encouraged to spend, spend, spend online and cast off their fears about ecommerce.
In particular, the campaign run by etailing industry body Interactive Media and Retail Group (IMRG) is hoping to target the 18 million or so adults in the UK with access to the Net who have not yet ventured online to shop.
Although the campaign has been running all month, today is the "big one" with the chance for shoppers to win more than £4 million worth of prizes, offers and discounts. There are also campaigns to promote safe shopping as well as bagfuls of encouragement to get people to take their first steps online. And it's amusing stuff.
"Never shopped online before?" asks the blurb. "Don't be too embarrassed about it, but don't put it off any longer. Shopping online is what smart people are routinely doing these days. And we're here to help you get started.
"Remember the first time you tied your shoes or rode a bike? Well, shopping online is much easier than that. Just go for it today. Start by buying something simple from any of the great brands that you know and trust which are backing 24x7 Day."
It goes on: "Some people are just not interested in shopping online. That's fair enough. If you are not interested in more convenience and choice, shopping whenever you like, reserving things or having them delivered, and saving time and money, that's entirely up to you.
"But don't miss out on Internet shopping because of the old media hype about it not being safe. It's plain wrong. Shopping online is at least as safe as shopping in the high street. Indeed, plenty of people do shop online in the UK." Well, that's told the doubters.
In the real world, Forrester Research predicts that UK online sales are set to grow 46 per cent this year from £7.1 billion ($11.42 billion) in 2002 to £10.4 billion ($16.72 billion) in 2003. However, despite the hype, people are still concerned about shopping online and it will take more than a jolly marketing campaign to convince them otherwise.
According to Forrester, half of those who currently steer clear of e-shopping do so because they don't want to give out their personal financial information on the Web.
"The old chestnut of security worries won't go away," said Forrester Senior Analyst Rebecca Jennings.
Which is why she believes that the UK's retailers must hold shoppers' hands and ease them through the process of buying online. They must do all they can to ensure that consumers feel happy giving their financial details online making the process simple, jargon-free and as much help as is needed.
However, according to security consultancy The 3rd Man, it's not consumers who should be worried about security but retailers themselves. It's warned that Internet Shopping Day could become "National Shoplifting Day" with etailers at risk if they fail to protect themselves from "card not present" (CNP) credit card fraud.
"The Internet has become a fabulous place to trade, but many retailers are still unaware of the potential exposure they face when trading over the web," said Neil Ringwood, Risk Consultant at The 3rd Man.
"By using a number of different techniques, fraudsters will appear as bona fide customers but are in fact unscrupulous dupers. Not only do they avoid paying for the goods, but the retailer helps them out by posting the goods to them: it's shoplifting with home delivery thrown in."
And while he backs any initiative to get people shopping online he said: "In reality the consumer has little exposure to cyber crime, it’s very much a case of retailer beware." ®