ASSOCIATES (vol. 7, no. 1, July 2000) -

Shopping on the Internet


Michael D. Brooks
Acquisitions Technician
Francis A. Drexel Library
St. Joseph's University

The computer has become a useful tool for nearly everything people need or want to do now—even for people who cannot afford the luxury of owning their own PC at home. They can simply go to their local community center, church, or library, sit down at an available public workstation and conduct research or business. In some cases, conducting business is ordering from online Web stores. One such site is QVC (

Since I am partial to the QVC Web site, I decided to examine its use of text and graphics. I believe it is best to begin by saying that the QVC site is designed exclusively as an Internet / Web mail order site to complement its television programming.

Since I have ordered items from the QVC television shows, I tend to check out the show’s offerings based upon its programming schedule. When I see items I am interested in are going to be aired, I tune in or set up the VCR if I am not able to tune in. If I do not see something or miss the programs I was interested in, I simply logon to the Web site and perform keyword searches using item names.

Unlike a site like ( where there is no supplemental medium to support it, QVC has its television division. Also, unlike or (, QVC does not have to provide a lot of snazzy graphics or catchy text phrases to grab Web surfers. QVC already has a view-based clientele and has no need to spend a lot of time and effort making a Web site that is eye-catching. The Web site complements the TV division.

All the site’s designers have to do is make sure their site is easy to navigate, enough images of the merchandise are available, and ensure the search for items at the site is not complicated. Otherwise, QVC’s Web designers do not need to do anything except keep the site fresh, aesthetically attractive, and, above all, quick and easy to load.

Each item offered by QVC is available on the site. The prospective customer searches the site with keywords either pinpointing or approximating the item sought. If an exact match is found, that item is listed along with an item number, color, size, price, shipping and handling charge, and a description of that item.

If the search results in a slew of items matching the request, a hypertext list of items appears each with its own checkbox. All one has to do is scan the list and check the boxes of the items they want more information about then click Quick Compare. All of the selected choices are then grouped together for a comparison check.

For example, if I wanted to request information about digital cameras, all I would do is type in the words "digital camera" and click the search button. The result would simply be a list of name brands or types of digital cameras and prices. Based on this information alone, which admittedly is not much to go on, I would then check the boxes of items of interest, and then ask for a product comparison. Or I can simply click on one hyperlink at a time.

The result is a picture of each item (if available), a brief description of each item, and ordering information. I need only to click the graphic to get a larger, more detailed picture of the item. Usually, the larger image is not accompanied by text. Unfortunately, sometimes the image that does accompany the text is not adequate enough to make an informed decision no matter its size. The images are usually video capture shots of the television offerings. Screen shots are not quite as useful as images of items taken specifically for Web viewing. Such images are dependent upon text to help describe the items for sale. Yet the text alone is often not descriptive enough to adequately describe an item—especially items that have no accompanying picture.

Despite the sometimes-poor graphic quality of the images or the sometimes-sketchy item descriptions, one cannot deny that the combination of text and images still serve their purpose; they are designed to sell merchandise. One cannot do without the other. And in the case of QVC, the combination of text and images (though not always clear), sells.

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