ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 2, November 2002) - associates.ucr.edu

*Holiday Shopping on the Web*

by

Michael D. Brooks
St. Josephís University
Philadelphia, PA
brooks@sju.edu

The holidays are upon us, and you know what that means. Shopping. Crowded stores, long lines, surly attitudes, next to impossible parking, and riding public transportation with an arm-load of packages and boxes can make the holiday shopping experience an exasperating one.

Online shopping can make the season bright, but even that can be a hassle if the online retailers have Web sites that are user un-friendly.

Shopping online is a convenience and the experience should be gratifying. Retail sites should be well organized, easy to navigate and devoid of mystery meat navigation. This means if you click on a link for bedding, you should arrive at a page with bedding choices. The site should be secure, the pictures should be clear, and the item in the image should be easily identifiable. For instance, if you are viewing a picture of a mahogany computer desk with storage space for three peripherals, a fold-out keyboard tray, and a shelf for books and accessories, it had better look like what the ad copy says it does. There is nothing more irritating than viewing merchandise displayed as thumbnails that are not linked to a larger, more detailed image, or looking at a picture of an item that is fuzzy or distorted. A notable exception to this phenomenon is Macys.com.

I was quite impressed perusing the Macys site. The pictures are clear and can be magnified to reveal sharp images with surprising detail. It is like looking at a photograph through a magnifying glass. You are also able to shift the image around to get closer looks at different sections of the image. Being able to see what you want to buy from a clear virtual image is an enormous help in making an informed decision. It actually enhances the advertising copy. JCPenny.com also enables you to zoom in on images. But perhaps the most important aspect of a retail Website is the contact information.

There is nothing more frustrating than having to hunt for how to get in touch with the company. The ideal place for this information is at the top of the home page. It is also acceptable for contact information to appear at the bottom or in columns off to the sides of the page. The contact information can be written out on the page, in a drop-down menu, or linked to a page dedicated to contacting the company.

What should be included? Company name, address, phone numbers (toll-free preferably), and an email address. Keep in mind some businesses take their time replying to email or provide an automated email reply system. If you are lucky, you may find a retailer that provides real-time chat. Instead of talking with a sales representative on the phone, you chat live with one online.

If you really like the site and/or the retailer, you can create your own account. Most sites now provide personal accounts with free registration. An account may entitle you to regular email notices of sales, special offers to members only, and a way to keep track of purchases, among other things. It is also a very good idea to check and see if the site is secure.

If you really donít know of any online retailers or you have no idea where to go to get what you are looking for, try Shopping.com. Itís a search engine/portal to literally thousands of items and stores. It is powered by DealTime, Inc. They are basically a comparison shopping service. You click a link or type in a keyword and are presented with a list of stores offering the same or similar items and a list of comparable prices. You can even tailor your search parameters if you are looking for items with specific requirements. Of course, you will have to use your own discretion when purchasing something from an online retailer you may not be familiar with.

Another very important feature a site should have is its own search engine. So if you cannot find what you want from the links that are provided, you can type in the keywords that interest you and see where you end up.

If shopping online is not your idea of holiday shopping, or if you frown on home delivery, and you do not mind the throngs of people at the malls, then by all means go, but before you do, check out the Web first to see what is available. Then charge it.

Some recommended sites: Sears.com, JCPenny.com, Staples.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, Kmart.com.



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