Online shopping guide

From a slice of pizza to a $50billion industry in just one year

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Athin and crispy pepperoni pizza may not be the first thing that springs to mind when logging on for a spot of online shopping but, believe it or not, it was Pizza Hut back in 1994 that became the very first online retailer, thanks to its then-unique pizza-ordering service. The world has since become infatuated with online shopping, logging on to buy everything from vegetables to vintage Versace. Welcome to the wonderful e-world of commerce.

A short year after we could munch those cyber-pizzas, we had the very latest literary bestsellers delivered right to our door, thanks to Amazon.com. This was swiftly followed by a site that has changed the way we shop for ever: eBay.

Even the recent financial downturn hasn’t prevented us from logging on. ‘There were more than £50 billion [Dhs293 billion] worth of online sales in 2010,’ says James Roper, CEO of IMRG, (Interactive Media in Retail Group), ‘and almost all of retail growth was accounted for by the online sector.’

Ruth Chapman, founder of the fashion boutique Matches, has a thriving retail empire of 13 shops in London, but still felt the need to launch an online store. ‘There was a growing awareness of online shopping by consumers and we wanted to offer this to our existing mailing list. But also our international clients, who knew us through travel and private shopping, could now shop whenever they wanted.’ This was not a decision Ruth would regret. ‘Today we are seeing average spends increasing; more men are shopping online and people are buying trend-led glamorous fashion, key statement pieces from the runway and wardrobe staples from reliable brands,’ she explains.

So, with their obvious global appeal, online shopping sites are continually popping up around the world to tend to our every need. Thanks to international delivery, living in Dubai no longer requires monthly trips abroad for those remote style must-haves, ‘Cross-border trading is the latest online shopping trend that is taking off,’ explains Roper, ‘retailers are seeking to exploit the weak pound’s attractiveness to overseas shoppers.’ Great – that’s more shopping for us.

In the US, the craze for online shopping has gone as far as to add a new day to the country’s shopping diary. Cyber Monday, the Monday immediately after Black Friday (on November 29 last year), was launched in 2005 to encourage shoppers to buy online and quickly developed into one of the year’s busiest online shopping days. In 2008 Free Shipping Day was conceived -– a day in December (16 last year), when companies offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery before Christmas Eve and, again, sales went through the roof.

But who is doing all of this shopping? ‘At MatchesFashion.com we have definitely seen an increase in male shopping online,’ says Ruth Chapman. ‘We find that they generally know what they love and want, and are repeat shoppers. A large proportion of men don’t enjoy store shopping and they lack time.’

‘Most of my business comes from women, or men shopping for women,’ insists Caroline Stanbury of GiftLibrary.com, who set up the online luxury-goods service to cater for today’s time-deprived. ‘A lot of men come to us for help with present ideas for their wives or girlfriends. Men are looking for advice. They want to know how to put things together and [want] simple ideas.’

If you are one of those men who would rather go style-short than spend the day trawling through a Dubai mall, say hello to Mr Porter – a dedicated men’s fashion site launched a few months ago by the team that brought us the online sensation Net-a-porter.com. ‘We have created a dedicated men’s shopping destination entirely conceived with the intelligent, stylish man in mind,’ explains Natalie Massenet, Founder and Chairman of Net-a-Porter.com. ‘Mr Porter will not only be a grown-up, masculine and accessible retail destination for men, it will also be an environment that women will enjoy using, and find inspiring, when shopping for the men in their lives.’

Style Director for Mr Porter, Dan May, adds: ‘I think men have always been interested in how they look but have become more empowered to follow their style and experiment, as it gives them a heightened sense of ‘self’. I also think brands have become far more aware of the potential of the men’s online market in the last 10 years, as well as making it so very much more accessible.’

It seems that it doesn’t take long to get men hooked on the new, lazier form of shopping. After all, Dan himself made his first online clothing purchase just a couple of years ago, buying ‘a pair of trainers from APC when they collaborated with Nike in 2009’. And what will go into your online basket? Well, that’s up to you.

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