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
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
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.