Online Shopping:
To Buy or Not to Buy?
Stuart L. Esrock
Mr. Rebates
 

While the Internet and the World Wide Web are continuing to expand at a rapid pace, the development of electronic commerce has been slower. Surveys indicate many Internet users employ the developing interactive medium to shop or browse for information on products and services, but a far smaller percentage have actually made purchases online. This exploratory study uses the diffusion of innovation as a theoretical framework to begin to explain why many members of the Internet community have not yet conducted an electronic transaction online. Results from a survey of technically inclined professionals suggest that many potential cyber-customers do not perceive the innovation has a relative advantage and in fact it poses a relative disadvantage over traditional forms of conducting business. As a consequence, electronic merchants may need to develop better security safeguards and promote this fact to the marketplace in order to persuade more individuals to use developing media channels for the ultimate form of communication interaction between buyer and seller: a purchase transaction. Introduction
Whether we like it or not, the Internet and World Wide Web are increasingly becoming a focal point in American life. Computer ownership is rapidly becoming the norm. One research firm reports 45% of the population has a personal computer (PC) at home (Grant, 1998). Beyond ownership, most PC users are going "online" with new, interactive media channels along the Web. The American Internet/online community is now estimated to be about one-third of the adult population. Even more astounding, this population has doubled over the course of the past two years (Grant, 1998; Intelliquest, 1998).
But not just individuals are jumping onto the electronic information bandwagon. American corporations and other institutions are going online, too. For example, a recent study of Fortune 500 corporations revealed that more than 90% had a readily accessible site on the World Wide Web (Esrock & Leichty, 1998). Most of these organizations use their Web pages for image-oriented purposes, to provide product information, or for internal communication, but another group has begun using the Internet and World Wide Web in a manner that fosters a more direct form of interaction.
Indeed the fuel that is expected to fire future growth of the Internet and other forms of interactive communication is electronic commerce. This developing application of information technology perhaps best embodies the explosion of commercial interests on the so-called "information highway." The roots of electronic commerce can be traced back to French businesses using the Teletel network and Minitel data terminals to order and sell supplies in the early 1980s Web-based electronic commerce began to emerge in the mid 1990s with small entrepreneurial operations . Today, this exploding forum that brings together buyers and sellers has attracted the attention of style-setting retailers. Of course, hardware and software firms are also clamoring to get their piece of electronic commerce revenues. Bill Gates believes electronic commerce has huge potential. "There's a new generation of consumers coming, who have gone to college and expect to be able to interact through the Internet. Whether it's with their bank or a car dealer, they're going to use the Internet" (Ziff Davis, 1998).
Online shopping, or the use of the Internet to gather information on products and services, has already shown significant growth. While 19.7 million Americans visited commercial Web sites from the comfort of their homes in 1997 (Kelley, 1998), up to 40 million now shop online (Intelliquest, 1998). Actual financial transactions are also on the ascent. Electronic commerce has grown from 2.6 million total online purchases in 1996 to an estimated 13 million people who made online purchases (some made multiple purchases) in 1998 (Intelliquest, 1998). Most projections suggest electronic commerce revenues will rise from $4 billion in 1997 up to $50 billion-plus early into the new millenium (Dodge, 1998; Tedesco, 1997). The growth potential is enough that even the US Congress is getting into the act in an attempt to spur growth. By the summer of 1998, the House had passed a three year ban on state and local sales taxes on Internet sales, and the Senate considered a similar moratorium for a six year period (Nation's Business, 1998).
Electronic commerce is notable for scholars because it so firmly links the merchant and consumer through a blend of communication and technology. The development of online shopping has been facilitated in large part by the expansion of the World Wide Web and its hyperlinked, interactive capacity. Vanderbilt Universitys Donna Hoffman, who has observed the growth of Internet electronic commerce since its earliest development, believes the Web removes some barriers to interaction between buyer and seller. "The real crux of what the Web can offer companies is the ability to be closer to their customers than ever beforefirst and foremost this involves communicating with them" (Lapham, 1996).
Because it fosters new and different forms of interaction between the customer and merchant, the Web is far different than traditional mass media channels that retailers have relied upon (Kresser, 1996). Part of the importance of the Web as a conduit for electronic commerce lies in its unique ability to empower users to control the pace and direction of the communication process (Kayany, 1998). As a result, the organization that wants to sell in cyberspace must adhere to a slightly different model of mass-mediated communication with current and potential customers. But such a model of computer-mediated communication allows small and middle-sized organizations in particular to take advantage of what the medium offers (Lapham, 1997). Ultimately, in order to succeed on the Web, merchants must create a "marketspace" in which customers can interact with the firm and each other, receive and disseminate information, and purchase products or services (Kresser, 1996).
Despite the growth of electronic commerce and expanding interest in this incarnation of interactive communication technology, it is important to look at those who are not conducting transactions in cyberspace. At the institutional level, some of America's largest corporations and retailers are not yet true believers and choose to remain on the Internet sidelines. Their hesitance may be related in part to exaggerated reports about electronic commerce amidst a "gold-rush atmosphere" of myth and hyperbole (Wilder, 1999). At the individual level, 13 million American adults may have made purchases online, but that still leaves more than 90% of the population that has not. Research shows two-thirds of the adult population is not even online, providing at least a partial explanation why so many Americans have not yet made purchases via the Web (Intelliquest, 1998). Still, while about two-thirds of the Internet population of 66.5 million American adults are browsing and window shopping in cyberspace, a full 80% of the online community has not yet made a purchase through the medium.
It remains unclear why some individuals are utilizing aspects of the developing communication medium, but have not yet decided to engage in the ultimate form of electronic interaction with merchants. This study asks why and uses the diffusion of innovation as a theoretical framework to help explain what obstacles need to be overcome to make online transactions a more commonplace form of interaction between buyers and sellers. Potential Benefits and Obstacles to Online Commerce
Although it is already a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, electronic commerce is still in its infancy, having only advanced beyond the days of small entrepreneurs and fly-by-night retail operations. The small amount of research that has been done on the topic is primarily descriptive in nature, focusing on the growth of electronic commerce and forecasting its future potential.
Some authors have attempted to create a typology for electronic commerce sites on the Internet. For example, Hoffman, Novak, and Chatterjee (1995) proposed a structural framework for examining commercial Web sites. The authors categorized commercial pages on the Internet as integrated destination sites (like online storefronts, Internet presence pages, and content sites) or Web traffic control locations (like malls, incentive sites, and search agents) that attempt to direct individuals to the destination pages. More important, these authors attempted to articulate the potential benefits and drawbacks of the electronic commerce environment for consumers.
One of the major benefits of online shopping is the availability of information about products and services, which reduces uncertainty in the purchase decision process (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995). This characteristic is evident throughout the World Wide Web. For example, travel sites like The Trip allow potential customers to research flight alternatives and make fare comparisons, as well as read hotel reviews and check rates on accommodations.
The Web also provides the potential for online trial of products, again reducing uncertainty in the purchase decision making process (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995). Accordingly, the true strength of Web sites like Amazon.com and CDnow.com is the ability for consumers to listen to new artists and preview sound clips before making a purchase.
The interactive nature of the Internet and the World Wide Web provide additional benefits to consumers (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995). The hypertext environment gives individuals the ability to search and control information at deep levels, altering the traditional mass media environment in which the sender of messages largely controls what will be seen and heard. In this instance control shifts to the receiver who can select and in some instances customize information, thereby enabling comparison shopping and speeding the process of finding items (Wallace, 1995). Shopping via the Web can even provide individuals with a chance to haggle, minus face-to-face contact. For shy individuals, the interactive online experience provides the opportunity to not offend anyone in-person about pricing or quality of items (Kelly, 1999).
The electronic marketplace provides a basic economic benefit in that it allows for an expansion of competition (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995). While it is expensive and difficult to enter the marketplace and slug it out in the shopping malls of America, smaller organizations like Amazon.com and CDnow have the ability to use the Internet to compete with the nation's largest retailers. The relatively low cost of doing business in cyberspace provides even the smallest entrepreneur with an opportunity to compete with much larger organizations. From an economic standpoint, more competition in theory means the potential for better prices for consumers as well as better quality.
Despite this array of potential benefits to online shopping and transactions, numerous obstacles also appear to exist. At the time of the 1995 study, the primary barrier was a lack of access to the Internet (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee), a problem that has yet to be fully resolved. The access issue includes not only a high-speed connection to the Internet, but also the obvious basic need for hardware and software in the first place. Other impediments to online commerce that were cited include ease of use problems, price, and risk issues that encompass security and privacy concerns (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995). Most recent writing is focusing on these latter issues.
Security matters certainly constitute a continuing problem for electronic merchants. One recent survey of information professionals indicated that about 60% of electronic commerce sites on the Web reported at least one or more security breaches during a one year period encompassing 1997 and 1998. Equally disturbing, 12% experienced theft of data or trade secrets, three times the number for companies not selling products via the Web (Dalton, 1998). The New York Times reports that many Internet users and even security experts are concerned enough about Internet crime and potential violations of personal privacy that they would rather "auction off their firstborn child than use a credit card to buy something on the Web" (Kelley, 1998). Theoretical Framework for Explaining the Diffusion of Online Commerce
The diffusion of innovation provides an excellent context for analyzing the development of online commerce, its benefits, and potential drawbacks. Diffusion research focuses upon how new technologies and concepts spread throughout social systems (Rogers, 1995). From its beginnings in sociology research in the early 1900s, diffusion of innovation studies have been conducted in disciplines as diverse as anthropology, education, and geography with communication having become the second largest area of investigation (Rogers, 1995). The diffusion of innovation has most recently become an important and frequently used analytical framework for studies that focus on computer-mediated communication and emerging technology (see Adams, 1997 for a review of this particular aspect of the literature).
One branch of diffusion research that is used to predict or explain the adoption of innovations involves individuals' perceptions of the properties or characteristics of an innovation itself. After a review of diffusion studies that focused upon characteristics of innovations, Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) delineated five dominant perceptual attributes that could be applied universally to a variety of innovations. This typology has been recognized by diffusion researchers as providing a definitive guideline upon which to base such research (for example, Gatignon & Robertson, 1985). The basic "attributes of innovation" that can be used to predict or explain diffusion include relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability, and trialability (Rogers, 1995).
Four of the five factors have a positive relationship with adoption. Relative advantage refers to whether an innovation is perceived as being better than the innovation it supercedes and includes both economic and social factors. Compatibility measures whether an innovation is believed to be consistent with the potential adopter's values, needs, and past experiences. Observability is the degree to which the results of the innovation are visible and apparent, while trialability gauges whether an innovation may be experimented with before an adoption decision is made. The more that an individual perceives an innovation possesses these four characteristics, the more the individual is likely to adopt the innovation. On the other hand, complexity has an inverse relationship with adoption. Complexity refers to what extent the innovation is difficult to use and understand (Rogers, 1995).
These attribute conceptualizations have become an important grounding for communication studies of topics ranging from diffusion of the World Wide Web (Burns, 1997) to work-site AIDS programs (Backer & Rogers, 1998). Most notably, the attribute variables have been found to provide stronger prediction of adoption decisions than the demographic characteristics of adopters, explaining from 49% to 87% of the variance in adoption rates (Rogers, 1995). For that reason alone, some scholars have called for an increased exploration into this conceptual domain as a theoretical foundation upon which to base future research (for example Bolton, 1983; Williams, Rice, & Rogers, 1988; Zaltman & Lin, 1971).
Beyond predictive studies, a number of communication and media researchers have used the attribute of innovation typology in a post-hoc manner to help account for the success or failure of innovations. Trachtman, Spirek, Sparks, and Stohl (1991) attributed the downfall of a trial educational computer service to the fact that most of the 500 families who experimented with the system perceived no relative advantage and virtually no compatibility with their existing values, beliefs, and expectations. In another analysis, a researcher suggested the success of a public electronic networking system was connected to the fact that the system was highly accessible for trial (trialability) and that it was also compatible with the norms and interests of users (Collins-Jarvis, 1993). In a post-hoc analysis of the diffusion of television remote controls (Klopfenstein, 1993), the author surmised that the relative advantage and observability of the devices helped to propel their diffusion, as did a marked decline in the cost of the units.
The benefits of online commerce that have previously been discussed fit well into the attribute of innovation framework. The availability of additional information in interactive forms can be viewed as a relative advantage that would help to explain the diffusion of online shopping. Likewise the potential economic benefits of lower prices and higher quality provide a relative advantage over the way that consumers have traditionally shopped. The potential for online trial of products and services clearly fits into the trialability attribute category.
Likewise, the attribute categories also help to explain the potential obstacles to online shopping. Failure to own hardware and software can be viewed as a compatibility problem in that these are technologies that one must own and be comfortable using before making purchases online. The ease of use problem that was cited fits into the complexity factor, while price issues constitute a drawback in relative advantage. Finally, the risk issues and security/privacy embody the relative advantage variable. Some Internet users may perceive that electronic commerce is no better than traditional ways of shopping because they are having to give up something (beyond money) in the process of conducting online transactions: their own sense of security and attendant feelings of a threat to personal privacy.
While these explanations for the benefits and drawbacks of online shopping seem to make sense, they are not based on any kind of empirical evidence that involves the end users of the technology. Most important, these explanations provide only a theoretical interpretation of problems with the technology. It would seem important to find out why a large portion of those who are comfortable with computer technology will not conduct online transactions with merchants. This study attempts to provide some direct evidence to begin to explain the development (or lack thereof) of electronic commerce within the framework of the diffusion of innovation. Method
In order to investigate the research question, a membership list was obtained from an advertising club chapter in a mid-western market. The list contained 742 members including employees of advertising, public relations and marketing agencies, advertising industry suppliers like printers and photographers, media outlets like television stations and newspapers, non-profit organizations, corporate and retail advertisers, consultants, and other marketing-oriented personnel. The researcher used a systematic sample with a random start and skip interval of three to generate a group of 250 subjects. This sampling technique is regarded as virtually equivalent to simple random procedures (Babbie, 1986).
Questions about online commerce were included in a survey instrument that was sent to respondents to gauge their perceptions about direct marketing and data collection issues. In this line of research, the investigator explored how sensitive these subjects have become to public complaints about the proliferation of direct mail and telemarketing. Given the heightened status of respondents as marketing communication professionals, the investigator also wanted to determine to what extent the subjects had adopted a cutting-edge of interactive communication technology: conducting online transactions. It was reasoned that given their profession, this group would be more attuned to the potential benefits and drawbacks of electronic commerce and possibly more opinionated on the subject than the population at large. The researcher hoped that respondents who had not adopted the technology might be able to articulate why they had failed to do so. Given typical diffusion patterns for technology and the fact that this group should include a healthy portion of so-called innovators and early adopters of technologies (Rogers, 1995), it was decided that this sample would provide a good starting point for research into perceptions about online shopping.
The researcher developed a survey instrument with seven-point Likert scales to measure the attitudes of subjects about direct marketing and data collection. For the present study, the researcher added a series of demographic questions and some additional items near the end of the instrument to measure adoption/ownership of PC technology, online capabilities, and whether respondents had made purchases in the online environment. A final series of open-ended questions provided those who had not shopped online with the opportunity to articulate why, as well as any other concerns they had about emerging networked technology. These responses were coded into a category scheme that reflected the attribute of innovation categories.
 
Results
A total of 118 completed surveys were returned and 6 other instruments were sent back due to inaccurate or insufficient addresses. The response rate of 48.4% was essentially the same as the average that was computed for mail questionnaires in a 1983 study of survey methodology (Yu & Cooper). This rate should be considered acceptable, given the fact that the completion rate on many mail questionnaires is 30% or under (Alreck & Settle, 1985; Fowler, 1984). Further, the responses would appear to be free of a selectivity bias toward individuals with a particular interest in the Internet and online commerce. Most of the instrument focused on direct marketing and data collection issues with no question appearing about Internet access or use until the fifth of six pages. It is unlikely, therefore, that the return rate would be weighted by those with an Internet bias since they would not have found out about that aspect of the questionnaire until near the end of the instrument.
Respondents to the instrument tended to be more predisposed toward using personal computer technology in their homes and in traveling through cyberspace than the population at large. An overwhelming 82% of respondents reported having a personal computer at home, compared to about 45% of the American population (Grant, 1998). Of those with a PC at home, more than 76% reported that they are online. Of all the subjects in the research project, about 62% are online, again higher than the 32% rate reported in the population at large (Intelliquest, 1998). When one considers the fact that some additional respondents may be online at the workplace without owning a PC at home, this figure could be even higher, creating an even larger disparity between the research subjects and the overall population.
The research subjects in this study also were ahead of the curve when it comes to making purchases in the online environment. A little more than 36% of overall respondents report making at least one purchase online. Viewed another way, about 45% of the home PC users, or 51% of the respondents reporting to be online from home, have conducted an online transaction. These figures compare to only 20% of American Internet users who report having made at least one online purchase (Intelliquest, 1998).
Few demographic trends emerged in this study in terms of online transactions. Although the diffusion of innovation line of research would tend to suggest that younger or better educated subjects would be more likely to adopt this innovation (Rogers 1986), statistical testing of these variables was not significant. There were differences, however, on gender. As Table 1 shows, more male respondents report that they buy online than female respondents. Chi-square analysis of this result indicates the difference was significant (X2 = 5.94, df = 1, p = .015).
 

Table 1 
Cross-tabs Analysis of Online Purchases by Male and Female Respondents
with a PC at Home (n = 99)

GENDER

 

Female %

Male %

TOTAL

ONLINE PURCHASES

Yes %

14.1

30.3

44.4

No %

31.3

24.2

55.5

 

TOTAL

45.4

54.5

100


Respondents who answered "no" to the online transaction item were asked in a follow-up, open-ended question to articulate the reason why they had not. A total of 29 respondents completed this item. Given the previous result on gender differences in online purchase behavior, the researcher examined the sub-sample of open-ended respondents in terms of the same gender variable and found two-thirds were females.
Respondents to the open-ended question as a whole suggested they are not making purchases online because of a predominating concern over security issues. Just under 80% of these subjects suggested they had not made purchases online because of worries about personal privacy, lack of security of credit card information, or other trust and confidentiality problems. Again this group was skewed by females (65% of the respondents expressing privacy and security concerns), because of their heightened response rate. The male open-ended respondents, however, were as vocal about the security issue (80%) as were the female open-ended respondents (79%).
The comments about security concerns were generally very consistent. One respondent commented, "I do not want to use a credit card online. I do not feel secure with Internet security." Another subject said she would not make purchases online because of "fear of credit card numbers being intercepted by someone other than the company I am doing business with."A%20male%20respondent%20complained%20that%20the%20Internet%20is%20not%20secure."I do not trust that media outlet to protect my privacy."
Several additional concerns were voiced in the open-ended responses. One respondent articulated a preference to make purchases within his/her community. According to this subject, "I do not give my credit card number to anyone I do not know. Local businesses are just as good, if not better." Other objections to online purchases that were expressed by at most a respondent or two include a lack of network access, a lack of money to shop online, and a desire to use the Internet for information or recreation purposes only.Discussion
It must be acknowledged that the results of this exploratory study can not be generalized to the public at large or to the marketing community as a whole. Certainly the scope of this sample, both in raw numbers and in the narrowly defined group of research subjects, precludes a definitive set of declarations about the diffusion of electronic commerce. As well, some may argue that the setting in which the online purchase questions were posed generated response bias. But given the results are not contrary to the prevailing attitudes in society, such criticism is at least suspect. At the very least, the results point toward possible future research into online shopping diffusion, the apparent gender discrepancy, and the potential obstacle of security that seems to concern subjects.
The fact that the respondents in this study seem to be more inclined toward computer technology than the population at large may be quite revealing when it comes to projections for the future of online commerce. Because this sample as a whole would be considered as innovators or early adopters of technology (Rogers 1986), one would expect that they would be among the earliest to make online purchases. The fact that only a third of this technically inclined sample has made at least one online purchase is interesting. It suggests that the key to generating wider diffusion of this innovation lies in more than just the issue of access to the technology, as has been suggested previously (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee, 1995).
Even more instructive, this study provides some explanation for why many respondents are not yet conducting transactions online. Certainly a large percentage of the American population (55%) does not have a computer at home in the first place, which precludes online purchases (Grant, 1998). But if 62% of this technologically inclined sample is not buying online (including about half of those who have the capacity to do so), another explanation is necessary.
The diffusion of electronic commerce can be explained by the perceptions of users regarding the attributes of relative advantage, complexity, compatibility, observability, and trialability. Conversely, the failure to adopt the innovation can also be explained by utilizing these factors. The vast majority of open-ended responses from subjects reporting they have not made a purchase online point toward one particular attribute of innovation as an obstacle for diffusion of this technology. Online commerce does not appear to measure up on the relative advantage variable among the technologically inclined respondents of this study. In this interpretation, subjects who have not yet made purchases online do not perceive that the electronic commerce environment is better than traditional retail shopping.
In fact respondents who answered the open-ended questions about why they do not shop online suggest there is a disadvantage, primarily because of worries about the security of these transactions and the subsequent implications for their own sense of personal privacy. Such a result echoes an overwhelming national concern about the decreasing privacy of individuals (Krol, 1999). When one also adds a response that suggested a preference for doing business with local merchants into the relative advantage category, this variable alone accounts for 83% of comments about why the innovation has not been adopted. This finding fits well with past diffusion research that suggests first and foremost, individuals must perceive an innovation has a relative advantage before they will adopt it (Rogers, 1995). The relative advantage attribute has consistently been the leading predictor of adoption and it accordingly makes sense that it would also serve as an excellent post-hoc explanation for why respondents have not adopted.
Finally, one of the demographic variables in the study requires further examination. Age and education did not differentiate online purchasing among the sample, contradicting some past diffusion research. On the other hand, gender was significant with female respondents less inclined to make purchases online. This result would seem to be in accord with the slower diffusion of the Internet and electronic network technologies among women, plus previous research that suggests some gender differences in the use of online technologies. The lower rate of online purchases among female respondents in this study may serve as a manifestation of the tendency for a female style of computer-mediated communication that includes hedging and expressing doubts (Herring, 1994). This result may further serve as an artifact of a long-standing technological bias toward males and a system that has historically discouraged female participation in computers as early as childhood  or has even marginalized and excluded women (Warnick, 1999).
Even though they were under-represented in the sample as a whole, female concerns about online security were articulated nearly two-to-one over males. While there was a small sub-sample upon which to analyze this result, the exploratory nature of this research suggests a need to further investigate this weighted finding. Given a series of public cases about online harassment and stalking (for example, Shade, 1993) and continuing publicity about pornography in cyberspace, women may have become extremely sensitized to these issues and the attenuating implications for their own security. Women may simply feel a greater degree of uncertainty about their security in cyberspace than men and the online purchase differences may serve as but one example. Future research could also focus on whether there are gender differences in the gratifications that are experienced in the online and traditional retail surroundings. As such, this line of research might view online shopping as a "reduced cues" version of computer-mediated communication that affords impersonal transactions (Lea & Spears, 1995), as opposed to the more sociable exchanges that are conducted in an everyday shopping environment where face-to-face communication occurs.
Perception is reality for individuals. In this study, some subjects perceived that communication about personal financial matters is not necessarily secure in the electronic information environment. One wonders whether a similar perception has served as an obstacle for other communication technologies. Surely, a conversation on a portable, cellular telephone or a fax transmission is no more secure than communication and transactions that are conducted in the online environment. Even handing a credit card to a retail clerk in a store appears to have some potential implications for security and personal privacy. And yet, the issue of online security and privacy is drawing the lion's share of attention. Future research might focus on other relatively new communication technologies, non-adopters, and whether security or privacy concerns serve as a continuing obstacle to diffusion.Conclusion
Despite a propensity toward computers and online interactive communication technology, most respondents in this study are not yet making purchases online. While some subjects simply do not have access yet to this technology, the best explanation lies in the lack of a perceived relative advantage for online commerce. When it comes to the security of shopping transactions, respondents perceive the new technology to have a relative disadvantage over traditional forms of commerce. This finding fits well with national studies that indicate heightened concerns in our society about security, personal privacy issues, and marketers. It appears the individuals in this study want to be assured that if they are going to interact with merchants in an ultimate form of exchange, their communication and transactions will remain secure and private. Because most online merchants cannot make that guarantee or are not communicating their ability to assure security, a broad array of individuals are not adopting this innovation yet.
While only exploratory in nature because of a limited sample, this study suggests a need for further research. If a technologically sophisticated audience is hesitant to adopt this innovation because of the security issue, what does that say for the population as a whole? Certainly it brings into question forecasts that suggest electronic commerce will become a huge industry early in the new millenium. The pioneers and leaders of the move toward electronic commerce need to pay strong attention to the security issue and create new, innovative safeguards that protect consumers. Perhaps even more important, if the online shopping environment is to prosper, the new wave of electronic merchants needs to promote these safeguards to the marketplace to assure prospective customers that communications, personal data, credit card accounts, and transaction information can be protected.
 
From a theoretical standpoint, the research demonstrates that the attributes of innovation can be used to explain a decision not to adopt a form of interactive communication technology. The study also points again toward the importance of the relative advantage factor. If respondents do not perceive that a new idea has strong benefits over the idea it supercedes, they will not adopt. Despite the potential convenience and breadth of information and merchandise choices, it appears that online shopping may not reach its full potential until the security problem is fully addressed to the satisfaction of consumers. As a recent survey of information technology professionals suggests, electronic commerce has a long way to travel before cyber-merchants can assure consumers that their transactions are secure (Dalton, 1998). In the interim, there may be many shoppers who browse in cyberspace but few who actually buy.