Point Click & Shop

Although online shopping is booming, there are some things you should know before you spend a dime

with the information it collects from the sale.

  • Make sure you know the terms and conditions under which the site operates. Many people pass over this section, but information here usually gives guidelines on sales procedures, shipping and handling fees, return policies and other pertinent information.
  • Check to see if there are other ways to contact the site, such as a customer-service phone number, a fax number and a mailing address-just in case you want to speak to someone.
  • Awards given by major search engines and Web organizations such as the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences (www.iadas.net), which runs the annual Webby Awards (www.webbyawards.com), are also good indicators of a site’s trustworthiness. If the site supports advertising, see which companies advertise there. Major companies aren’t likely to
    associate themselves with a problem site. Last, take a look at the Better Business Bureau’s Website (www.bbb.org), which keeps tabs on several e-businesses.

    Although power shopping from your laptop may be convenient, make sure you are getting the best deal for your dollars. “Many people will go online with the idea that they are automatically going to get the cheapest price,” says Diane Schreiber, a representative of new media research company Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York. “Consumers should be wary. [The Web] is not always the cheapest way to shop.” Be aware of how much an item should cost-both on and off the Net-and use comparative shopping tools, such as shopping bots. Auction sites are another way to go (see sidebars). In addition, retailers that specialize in categories that have flourished on the Net, such as computers, autos and books, are finding that competition from walk-in stores is getting heavier.

    Typically, Mouzon finds better deals on the Net than he can in any store. The Stairmaster he purchased from the manufacturer’s Website for $2,000 was cheaper there than in any store he walked through. Mouzon also regularly comparison shops for books, CDs and movies on CDNow, Reel.com, and Amazon.com. At sites like these he can read reviews, sample the music and read reviews from professional writers and other customers.

    Shopping online has saved him hundreds of dollars, but that’s not his only motivation. “I have noticed cases where items I’ve purchased are not necessarily less expensive than the actual price off-line,” states Mouzon. “Price is not the ultimate factor for purchasing online-it’s convenience.”

    Husband and wife Jerome and Heidi Brown, of Oak Park, Illinois, also enjoy the ease of shopping from home. Jerome, a musician, songwriter and producer, wanted a computer that could handle sound production work and didn’t want a package with lots of hardware and software extras that he didn’t need. He compared Apple, Gateway and Dell computers, among others. After deciding on a Macintosh, he hunted through online sites for the best price and found that the Computer Exchange (www.mister mac.com) offered the deal he was looking for. However, he wasn’t as comfortable ordering the computer online as he was shopping for it.

    “I decided to actually call the company and order it

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