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Shopping online

December/January 2000/2001

Yes this is going to be another paean to online shopping, and yes, local retailers are going to hate me for it. It is, of course, my job as an Internet columnist to champion the Internet. But in this season of good will to all and peace on earth and not wanting to offend my friends and neighbors in southeastern Iowa whose job it is to sell you merchandise, let's begin with the disadvantages of buying online.

First of all is returning defective merchandise. When I bought a phone at Wal-Mart and didn't like the sound of its ringer, I was able to conveniently exchange it. When I bought a low-cost, bells-and-whistles phone via mail order and it didn't work, I stuck it in a drawer rather than return it. For some reason I dislike the hassle of shipping something back. I certainly didn't save any money on that one.

Second is the inability to see the product. I've enjoyed the convenience and discounted prices of buying books at Amazon, but the sad fact is that many of them sit on my shelves unread. Once I got them and saw what they were, I wasn't interested. Shopping in a bookstore could have avoided that.

In addition, there's service. Some types of products, such as a computer, require ongoing support and advice. Better to consider buying local for that if you think you'll need further assistance. And for items such as clothes, there's the matter of fit. Twice I've purchased shoes via mail order and both times regretted it.

Gfiven all that, I will still eagerly shop online this Christmas season for certain items. And I'm excited about a shopping portal that I've recently discovered: PricingCentral.Com. It lists the best price-comparison search engines in a comprehensive directory.

Its categories include Automotive, Baby, Books & Entertainment, Computers, Electronics, Finance, Fun & Games, Gifts, Health, Home, Jewelry, Office, Pets, and Travel. If, for example, you're interested in buying a book, you click on that category and it lists the price comparison search engines for books. These include AddAll, which searches 41 online bookstores for the lowest price, taking into account tax and shipping.

In my opinion, the best price comparison search engines include CNet's Shopper, Pricegrabber, and MySimon. They present the results in a very effective table format and not only tell price but also shipping cost. They also include vendor ratings. CNet is exclusively computer related; Pricegrabber adds consumer electronics, music, books, videos, and video games. MySimon is much more general and has the added advantage that it helps you find what you're looking for.

© 2000 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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