Worldwide malls provide unlimited choices from home

action in 2003. This marks 34 percent growth from last year but the growth rate slumped from 107 percent in 2001 and 49 percent in 2002.

Some are still convinced that the e-market market is strong. "Contrary to the opinion of several experts that the e-business market was slowing down, the truth is it is continuing its rapid growth although medium-sized companies are still reluctant to employ e-business," an official from Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.

Large enterprises such as Samsung, Hansol, LG, Lotte and CJ have joined the ever-growing market and even Amway Korea recently launched a Web site that sells over 600 kinds of products previously unavailable to non-members.

"Sales through our exclusive Internet site took up 74 percent of the total of Amway Korea sales last fiscal year. So we decided to let more customers get access to our merchandise," said Ahn Ja-hyun of Amway Korea.

Experts define Internet shopping as "post-modern" in comparison to modern consumption that requires physical movement, time constraints and tangible products. "E-commerce is one of the most important post-modern phenomena but consumers seem to prefer on-off-line composite type consumption," said Kim Hyun-hee, sociology professor at Hanshin University in her paper "Consumption Culture in Cyberspace."

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also defines online shopping: "An Internet transaction is the sale or purchase of goods or services, whether between businesses, households, individuals, governments, and other public or private organizations, conducted over the Internet. The goods and services are ordered over the Internet, but the payment and the ultimate delivery of the good or service may be conducted on or off-line."

And some customers agree that the Internet is more helpful as a research tool for gathering information and comparing prices rather than for actually buying things.

"I'm not keen on shopping on-line as shopping these days is not for the sole purpose of getting what you need. I's like to see, touch and try what I want before I buy something. And the imported goods on the Internet sometimes are way more expensive than they are when sold in other countries. I recently visited the Web sites selling furniture and homeware goods from Ikea and I was disappointed with the price and the limited variety," said 36-year-old Kim Yeon-hee. She said that many online shopping malls also sold marked-down clothing and accessories from previous seasons at much higher prices.

The lack of means to try or browse merchandise in person causes difficulty in many cases but there are certain merits in transactions taking place on the Internet. "Thanks to the Internet, customers are able to tailor products according to their tastes. There are limitations, of course, but through mass-customization, consumers can infuse their tastes and styles to a certain extent on the merchandise," said Kim Jai-ok, a visiting professor of fashion merchandising at Yonsei University.

In more tech-savvy fields such as electronics and communications device, the concept of 'prosumer,' or producer-consumer is inching toward reality. Mandanmohan Rao said in his paper 'South Korea Aims for Global Leadership in Wireless, Broadband Internet Markets in Information Age' for the United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance in 2002: "Korean companies are increasingly adopting 'prosumer' market research for developing new products, or treating consumers as active producers of marketing insights. The Internet makes it easier for vendors to collect such user inputs in the development and production of new products."

By Hwang You-mee