Point Click & Shop

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

customers’ needs. Remember, this is a new experience for both retailers and customers, so all of the bugs haven’t yet been worked out. For now, the best way to ensure a pleasant online shopping experience is to be an informed consumer.

How comparison shopping “bots” work The Net’s answer to personal shoppers is the shopping bot, research programs designed to seek out deals on the goods you want. To find them, type in “shopping bot” in your favorite search engine, and you’ll get a long list of choices. Here are a few tips to assembling your own hot shop bots:

  • Stay away from shop bot sites that charge a fee. Most are advertiser supported and therefore free to surfers.
  • When you know exactly what you want, be detailed about the parameters you give your bot. A large percentage of shoppers go online looking for a specific item, according to Jupiter Communications Inc.
  • Try casting a wide net, too. Enter general information about what you want to buy because not all sites list items under the same keywords. For example, “bookends,” “book ends” and “art” can give you some of the same listings.
  • Bots usually return results based on purchase price alone. Make sure the site you choose to purchase from is still offering a good deal after shipping and handling fees and taxes.
  • Hunt through two or three bot sites for what you want. “The one thing you need to be careful about is that bots don’t go out to every site out there,” says Jupiter representative Diane Schreiber.
  • Take rates with a grain of salt. Web retailers and shopping bot sites have relationships that may not be apparent, Schreiber says. “It is never the be-all and end-all, but it does cut down on the time spent shopping.”

Online Auctions
Bargain hunting or antique collecting through online auctions can open up paths to the special treasures your heart desires, but don’t get looted in the process. Shopping at online auctions can be safe and enjoyable if you follow a few simple rules and use a lot of common sense.

  • On person-to-person auction sites, like eBay.com, look for seller profiles that give a person’s history of buying and selling. If the seller doesn’t send the merchandise or delivers something other than what was promised, their profile will likely contain lots of hate mail.
  • Don’t rely solely on these profiles when deciding to bid, however, because unscrupulous sellers can switch names to get a clean profile. Read the site’s rules and look for guarantees and protections against fraud. Look for escrow services, such as i-Escrow, that protect both seller and buyer from getting swindled.
  • Analyst Rob Enderle, with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Giga Information Group, warns against using credit cards in person-to-person deals. “It would be like buying something off a street corner with a credit card,” Enderle says. “If you do deal with an unknown party, don’t give them critical information they could use later.” Consider paying by money order or traveler’s check.
  • Know where to hunt for the item you want. Not all auction
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