Order items that are unusual or unavailable locally.
Sometimes save money, since doing business online
can mean lower overhead for the retailer.
Shop renowned retailers from all over the world, without
getting on a plane.
Shop in your underwear.
But if the promise of shopping on the World Wide Web is huge, the frustration can be equally enormous. Web shopping can be glacially slow, and the sites difficult to navigate. A search that gobbles up your time gets costly and takes all the joy out of web shopping. The first remedy is to make sure your hardware is up to the task. If you're being tortured by the "World Wide Wait," consider getting a 56 kps modem. Web pages pop up much more briskly than with the 28.8 kps modems popular until about a year ago.
Moreover, even though Internet use is growing faster in Asia than anywhere else on the globe, most cybersellers are U.S.-based companies targeting U.S. and Canadian consumers. All too often upon finding a tantalizing site, you soon (but not soon enough) learn they won't deliver outside the U.S. But don't despair. Not all Web marketers are based outside the region, and many that are ship overseas.
With the Internet's dizzying rate of change, it's a good idea to keep checking sites that interest you in case they start long distance delivery. A leading U.S. toy site, eToys, promises to offer international service "later in 1998."
The price of delivery is a critical part of figuring out whether an online purchase is worthwhile. While geography is no barrier to wandering the virtual marketplace, long distance can make it expensive to deliver the goods. Many sites provide charts showing prices for different weights and destinations. The well-known delivery services they use are particularly expensive when the item is cheap. Says Lisa Fraser of Once Upon a Breeze, an Oregon kite shop (www.webcom.com/~mrkites): "If somebody wants a $25 kite and they find they have to pay up to $85 to get it, they're just gonna forget about it." Fraser notes, however, that her unstructured parafoil kites fold up for cheaper shipping.
It may be worth a steep delivery charge, however, on an item that is unique. It doesn't make sense to buy a Barbie Doll from New York's famous toy store, FAO Schwarz (www.faoschwarz.com) if it's available locally. A 40% charge tacked on international orders turns the $50 item into a $70 one. But if you simply must have all five Spice Girl dolls (yes, even Ginger) at $124.95, the additional $49.98 charged by FAO Schwarz may not deter you.
The typical shopping site provides an electronic catalogue with product photos and descriptions, and an order form that allows credit card purchases. There is still much room for improvement in the instructions for overseas ordering. One common problem is the insistence that customers fill in a U.S. zip code. Leaving it blank is liable to get you booted out of the ordering section. Try putting in XXXXX, and if that fails, exit the site. It's not geared for international orders.
In some cases, overseas shoppers can't orders through the website but only via e-mail or phone. Those options are also available for shoppers wary of forking over their credit card information to a website.
Such worried souls should be aware, however, that the encryption software designed to safeguard their credit card information has an excellent track record. Experts maintain that it's riskier to hand your card over to a mâitre d' in a restaurant than to pay online. "The software and hardware needed to crack the typically long coding sequences are so expensive it would be impractical," says Tony Bonham, marketing director at Oracle Systems, Hong Kong.
Cyberconsumers tend to know what they want before logging on. And most of them comparison-shop. The newest tool for navigating the ocean of web stores allows shoppers to search a particular product across many sites and compare prices. One place to find that service, www.webmarket.com, also offers independent evaluations of shopping sites.
On the following pages is a sampler of sites that should give you an idea of the range of e-shopping possibilities. --Miriam Herschlag
Sampler of Internet Shopping Sites