When selling began to move online, economists predicted two big benefits for consumers. Prices would get lower and more uniform. And the selection of products available to consumers would increase.
In some cases the prices for some books increased. This is because the consumers for those books, usually specialized books, could not find them before. Or when they purchased them, the bookstores had reduced the prices to get rid of them because they were nor moving. The internet changed all that. Rare books are now easier to find.
Researchers followed 500,000 eBay users chosen randomly on one particular day, and found that just 16% of their searches resulted in a purchase. The users seemed to find browsing almost costless, since they were willing to conduct an additional search to achieve an typical saving of just 25 cents. Furthermore, many searchers were not trying to get a better price for one product but were exploring dissimilar products. For example, a user who typed in “opera DVDs” scanned offers of Puccini, Verdi, Wagner and Bizet before returning and buying the Puccini.
This, the researchers estimate, suggests costs savings are only a small part of the value users derive from search; some of it comes from what they learn while searching. It looks like many users actually enjoy online searching, much as a lot of people enjoy window-shopping at bricks-and-mortar outlets.