Friday, December 9, 2011

The Sherwood Plaza Shopping Center, Gainesville, Georgia

Forty-eight million people are surfing the Web and 80 percent of them have plans to shop online, which would account for the nearly $1 billion that online stores are reaping. The question is no longer whether to shop online, but which vendors to bookmark.

One of the pleasures of online shopping is the ease of comparison browsing. With the online-business boom, however, there are now thousands of new stores, and a lot of confusion. Not all Web stores are equal, and hours can be lost--in the pursuit of saving time--perusing Web sites that provide scanty information or complicated procedures or both. And some Web sites turn out to be mere catalog pages and don't allow you to order at all.

Clearly, what's needed is an authoritative guide to quality online stores. Lisa and Jonathan Price visited more than 8,000 sites, and they rejected most of them. They sought online stores with secure ordering and stores that guarantee they won't pass your personal information along to other companies. They also looked for stores with fast and convenient search engines, full product descriptions, detailed pricing and shipping information, and reviews by critics and customers, as well as reasonable pricing, clear return policies, and lucid instructions.

They found nearly 1,000 stores that met their stringent criteria, and they present them in 78 shopping categories, listed alphabetically from Animal & Pet Supplies to Writing Tools. The table of contents can direct you to shops that sell batteries or basketballs, sail boats or chocolate, computers or hair-care products, maternity clothes, maps, stocks, travel adventures, or wine. All the Web sites are cross-referenced in a Web Site Addresses appendix, and again in a comprehensive index. The Prices describe what each online store offers, include some sample products, and summarize services such as search engines, photos, ordering, gift wrapping, and delivery.

This guide mitigates stress, confusion, and wasted time while it maximizes economical convenience--which is what you were after when you started shopping online in the first place, right? --Stephanie Gold


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