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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Audie Cornish. Over the past decade, online retail has increased fivefold. Last year, it accounted for about 7 percent of all retail revenue according to the research firm Forrester. There are many reasons for the surge. In some cases, better service, better price, better selection. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, these days, you can find just about anything online.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: There's almost nothing Anne Houseman won't or doesn't buy online. Take for example her living room.
ANNE HOUSEMAN: So both of our end tables, we got at overstock.com. We hadn't seen them in person, but we just saw them online, read the reviews, thought they were great and ordered them.
NOGUCHI: And the adjoining kitchen.
HOUSEMAN: So here are our dishes that I was saying, our entire dish set. So we got our coffeemaker, Le Creuset pot over there, got that online.
NOGUCHI: Nearly all of the bedroom was also purchased online.
HOUSEMAN: Everything from our mattress was purchased from overstock.com, this entire bed set, the bedspread, the pillows, dressers. We have two different dressers here.
NOGUCHI: And since Houseman is expecting a baby girl in July, she used Pinterest - the online scrapbooking site - to help her design a nursery. Then she furnished it largely from items purchased online. Come to think of it, Houseman says, you could say they bought their home in Woodbridge, Virginia, online, using the Web-based brokerage Redfin. And they bought both their cars on autotrader.com. Houseman embodies the new frontier of retail. Over time, her love of the convenience trumped concerns about using credit cards online and the hassle of returns.
Customer service, she says, is better. Some e-tailers even respond to tweeted consumer complaints. By her own estimate, 80 percent of what she spends goes to e-tailers. John Burbank is president of strategic initiatives for Nielsen, a market research firm. Retail behavior, he says, is changing very quickly.
JOHN BURBANK: Kids who are growing up today are going to come into a world that's very, very different.
NOGUCHI: They use mobile apps to research or comparison shop in the store. They rely on Amazon Prime, a service that charges an annual fee in return for almost unlimited free shipping. But that, Burbank says, is just the beginning.
BURBANK: There'll be different technology. There'll be different business practices. There'll be all sorts of incentives that don't exist today to move them to shop in different ways.
NOGUCHI: And the Housemans are very receptive to incentives. In the past couple of years, Anne Houseman has changed her habits around flash sale sites like Gilt Group and Rue La La. These sites offer sales for a limited time on limited quantities of luxury items. So Houseman actually structures her day around when these Web boutiques open.
HOUSEMAN: I think Rue La La opens at 11:00, and Gilt is at noon. I can't wait for that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HOUSEMAN: I'm not making impulse purchases per se, but it is nice to, like, see, like, ooh, what's new and what might be there that I need, anyway, that I can find at a deal.
NOGUCHI: Andrew Houseman, Anne's husband, likes the ability to custom-order things from the Web, like the mugs he has in his hand.
ANDREW HOUSEMAN: These are all custom-made beer steins from Zazzle.
NOGUCHI: He also says it's difficult to shop without the reviews, ratings and research he finds online. On the rare occasion he goes to a store, he uses bar-scanning applications on his phone to get information on products. When the Housemans come home, there's usually a stack of boxes waiting for them. They keep a small knife by the door to open them. Today, the stack is six deep.
HOUSEMAN: This is an item that I didn't know was coming, so this is good.
NOGUCHI: The haul includes a film to put on windows to conserve energy, a changing table and a red and chartreuse summer jumper for the baby. To many, the boxes are a wasteful nuisance, a downside to deliveries. But even this, Houseman doesn't consider a problem.
HOUSEMAN: When the boxes actually arrive, it's like getting a little present from the mail. You know, you get the satisfaction out of it twice. You bought it, and you were happy then, and then you're happy when you get to see it.
NOGUCHI: And at any rate, she says, recycling day is tomorrow. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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