Fast Company

Before You Hit the Mall ...

An online buying guide.

The net is no place for window shoppers. There's definitely a learning curve to online buying, from creating user accounts to completing personal profiles to downloading software files. Before you head out on your first virtual shopping spree, keep these three points in mind:

  1. Just because you use a browser doesn't mean you should browse. Shopping on the Net works best when you know exactly what you want before you go out looking: brand, model, system requirements. Online stores can offer broader selections, more convenience, and lower prices than their physical counterparts. But wandering the virtual aisles just buys frustration. It's not a fun way to spend the weekend.
  2. Don't be fooled by price tags. Remember, time is money too. Most first-time Net shoppers assume it's faster and easier than taking a trip to CompUSA. That's true -- sometimes. But between filling out detailed personal profiles, creating electronic accounts, waiting for software to download, and putting up with lots of other imperfections, it's surprising how long a "quick shopping trip" on the Net can take. There are plenty of reasons to shop online, but saving time isn't always one of them.
  3. There's more to bargains than price. Most newbies log on for the lowest price or to track down hard-to-find items. Those are perfectly valid reasons. But the best reason for shopping online just might be high-quality customer service. Many of the leading Web stores -- Onsale, Cyberian Outpost, Amazon.com, CDnow -- have mastered the use of email and electronic newsletters to enrich the buying experience. Imagine, no more dim-witted sales clerks or crabby telephone operators!

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