Fast, Easy, and Safe Online Shopping via Windows XP


Save Time By
Finding what you want — fast
Ordering with full confidence
Using eBay the right way
One hundred billion bucks. That’s about how much consumers will spend while using the Internet this year. It’s a staggering number — but barring some extraordinary calamity, it’s going to keep on growing.
You already know why people shop online — it’s fast, it’s easy, and you don’t need to find a parking spot. If you look in the right places, comparing prices can take just a click or two. Although you rarely find the absolute-lowest price for most consumer products online, particularly after you pay for shipping, you come pretty darn close.
And you won’t waste an hour driving to the mall and back.
Sure, online shopping has its problems. You can’t feel the fabric. You can’t try on the pants to see if they bag in the butt. You can’t hand your kids a five dollar bill and tell ‘em to buy the biggest ice cream cone they’ve ever seen.
But when it comes to saving time, online shopping can’t be beat.

Searching Reliable E-Tailers

Whether you want a genuine first edition signed Hemingway or an almost-certainly-fake, signed Lincoln in Dalivision, you find much of what you want — and much more of what you don’t want — on the Web.
If you’ve been on the Web for any time at all, no doubt you’ve bookmarked dozens of places that deserve your hard-earned dollars or Euros or yen or shekels or baht.
In this section, I offer you three lists of sites that I think every online shopper should check at least once. This isn’t a scientific list or a paid advertisement (which is more than can be said for advertising on some search engines!). It’s a quick rundown of good places to shop if you’re in the mood to save some time.
Table 72-1 lists the retailers that I have used for years. They’re reliable, the sites are put together so that you can get in and out quickly, and they don’t sock you with hidden charges or time-wasting games.

When I want to look for bargains, I go to these two sites: ( Discounted name-brand products in more than a hundred categories — electronics, home, clothes, jewelry, and sports.
Eddie Bauer Outlet (www.eddiebaueroutlet. com): An online version of its outlet stores.
The sites are a bit harder to negotiate than the ones in Table 72-1, but that’s at least partially attributable to the fact that the merchandise changes constantly.

Here are the sites I use when I know what I want and I’m looking for the best price:

mySimon ( Compare prices from dozens of online retailers. Strong on electronics, computer parts, topics, office supplies, clothes, and the like, but not as thorough as it once was.
PriceGrabber ( Fast comparisons on cameras, computer products, video games, and DVDs.
BizRate ( Compares prices for computer equipment, cameras, clothes, travel, office supplies, toys, and much more.
Froogle ( The new kid on the chopping, er, shopping block lists just about everything, but I found that other sites linked to places with slightly lower prices.

If you aren’t sure where to look for a product, you should try:

The Google shotgun approach: Type a description of the product into the Google Search box and press Enter.
Table 72-1: All-Time Favorite Shopping Sites

Address Company Description Amazon The original online bookstore now features toys, clothes, electronics, and software. Barnes & Noble Giving Amazon a run for the money and staying focused on topics. Absolutely everything a cook could ever want. Shipping is available only to the U.S., territories, APO addresses, and Canada, undoubtedly because people who live outside the U.S. don’t like to eat. Lands’ End One of the first, and still one of the best. Clothes, shoes, luggage, and more. L.L. Bean Great clothes, legendary shoes, outdoor gear, and still the best return policy on the planet. Old Navy You call ‘em generic. I call ‘em cool. Cheap, too. REI Long-time favorite with innovative outdoor products. Includes a tab for Baron Bob Gifts If you want an Airzooka gun or a Talking Trash Teddy Bear — well, you get the idea.

The Yahoo! indexed approach: Go to shopping. and drill down to the product you want.

Paying It Safe

Every major retail site nowadays has adopted the shopping-cart approach. Most online retailers enable you to store information on their Web sites — credit card number, shipping address, and the like — to make it easier for you make repeated purchases.
If you want to save something in your shopping cart, you almost always have to enable cookies on your computer. That’s how the retailer’s computer keeps track of who you are and what you’re buying. For more about cookies, see Technique 53.

Choosing a payment method

When you shop online, you’re generally offered a number of ways to pay:
Credit card: By far the most flexible and safest option for you (also one of the most problematic sources of income for the retailer).
Debit card: If you have an ATM card or check card in which the full amount of a purchase is deducted from your bank account as soon as you buy something, it’s a debit card. In the U.S., a debit card purchase is not protected nearly as well as a credit card purchase. Outside the U.S., laws and/or card company policies vary.
PayPal or similar third-party payment: A very efficient means of paying, with an established conflict resolution method (if you have a PayPal account, see item 15 of the User Agreement
at webscr?cmd=p/gen/ua/ua), but you don’t have anything close to the kind of protection given to credit card charges.
E-money or micropayments: Although the first wave of companies died in the dot-dom bust, there’s been a tiny resurgence of interest. These accounts and/or cards generally reflect some sort of prepaid, stored value. You pay with e-money, and the amount is debited from your card or account.

Getting what you pay for

You should treat a business transaction on the Internet the same way you would treat any other business transaction — only more so.

Before you order a product or service, follow these steps:

7. Retrieve and save precise details about the product.
At the very least, you need a model number and a description of the product. Surf to the page that describes what you’re ordering; then print or save the page. To save the page, choose FileO Save, and in the Save as Type drop-down list, choose Web Archive, Single File (*.mht) (see Figure 72-1). That saves the page and all the pictures on it in a single file.
Save an entire page, including all its pictures, by using the Web Archive, Single File option.
• Figure 72-1: Save an entire page, including all its pictures, by using the Web Archive, Single File option.
2. Find the company’s refund and return policies and save them.
Again, print or save the appropriate page as a Web Archive, Single File (*.mht).
3. Get the e-mail address or phone number of the customer service people.
Print it or save it. You know the drill.
4. Get something in writing about the expected delivery date.
There should be an explicit statement about delivery somewhere during the checkout process. Make sure that you save (or print) the page with that information.
5. Make sure that you know how much you will be charged.
If the final on-screen bill doesn’t include shipping and handling, you only have yourself to blame if your product arrives in the back of a Rolls, hand-delivered by a big football star — and you’re billed for the privilege.
6. Print or save the order page.
Every legitimate retail site e-mails you a receipt. But even under the best of circumstances, sometimes things go awry.
Most of the time, a specific transaction number is associated with the order. Make sure you have a record of it. Also, many sites send separate e-mail confirmations when the order is placed, and when it’s shipped. Keep those, too. And if you receive a tracking number for UPS, FedEx, or some other carrier (Amazon, among many others, includes a tracking number in the shipment notification), take a moment and visit the Web site to ensure the package is headed in the right direction. Several times, I’ve had packages bound for Thailand end up in Taiwan, or ones addressed to Australia go to Austria.
When everything arrives as expected and your credit card (or debit card, PayPal account, e-account, or
whatever) is charged correctly, you can breathe a sigh of relief. In fact, in my experience, the vast majority of online purchases work just as well as their meatspace analogs. But whether you’re clicking online or standing at a checkout counter, it’s a whole lot easier to prepare for any eventuality before a disaster strikes.

Using reputable Web sites

So how do you know if a specific Web site is on the up-and-up?

The short answer: You never really know for sure. Here are a few pointers:

If the Web site has the same name as a store chain you know and trust, you should expect that the policies and services online will be at least as good as what you would receive in person, in the store.
If you have any doubt at all about a Web site’s credibility, check the Better Business Bureau’s online site, The Better Business Bureau isn’t infallible, it only covers the United States, and it doesn’t have entries for every Web shop, but the 15,000-or-so businesses listed in its directory have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that their customers are treated fairly.
If you aren’t dealing with a big-name chain, and the Web site isn’t in the BBB’s list, you have to rely on your own devices. You might be able to find out how long the company has been in business. You can scan the Google newsgroups for the company’s name. You can look at the site and see if it’s well designed: A poorly designed site is a dead tip-off for a company that doesn’t care. You can track down a customer service number, and call and ask about the company’s return policy, product warranties, shipping costs, and so on. More than anything, though, if you start to get second thoughts about dealing with a specific Web site, insist on using a credit card.
Spend the time up front to save time down the line. When you’re sure of a business’s reliability, you can shop without fear and save time. Remember that the first rule of buying online is caveat emptor — and that a fool and his money soon go separate ways.
On the technical side, you should only send out your credit card or other personal information if the Web site requesting it uses something called the Secured Sockets Layer. You don’t need to remember that arcane name. But you should remember to look for the locked (padlock) symbol at the bottom of the Internet Explorer screen (see Figure 72-2).
Check for a padlock in the lower-right corner of your screen when you're shopping online.
• Figure 72-2: Check for a padlock in the lower-right corner of your screen when you’re shopping online.
The locked symbol signifies that it’s very, very, very difficult for someone to eavesdrop on your conversation with the Web site. Yes, holes have been discovered in SSL. No, nobody has lost any money because of them.

Handling credit card fraud

If someone steals your credit card and the card was issued in the United States, the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act basically protect you from any charges in excess of $50.
If someone steals your credit card number, as opposed to the card itself, and the card was issued in the United States, your liability for unauthorized charges is zero.
You should call your bank immediately if you find that your card has been stolen, of course.
The situation with U.S.-issued debit cards is different. If your debit card is lost or stolen, you’re liable for up to $50 if you report the card stolen to the bank within 48 hours. If you wait longer, you could be on the hook for more; and if you don’t report a lost card within 60 days of receiving a statement with a bogus charge on it, you may be held liable for the entire amount in your account.
There don’t appear to be any laws about stolen debit card numbers. Call your bank and find out your liability if your debit card number (and not the card itself) is stolen.
Laws and credit card company procedures vary in different countries, but many places have laws that are even tougher than those in the United States, and many U.S.-based credit card companies try to match the parent companies’ policies overseas.
If you pay for something online with a U.S.-issued debit card or credit card, and if any of these things happen
You don’t receive the goods or service
You receive something that differs from what was promised
You were billed for an amount that isn’t right
you must immediately write to the credit or debit card company.
It pays to follow through on online fraud — even if you only lose five or ten dollars. Some of the most successful online con men (and women) bilk thousands of customers out of small amounts of money. When you make the effort to correct even small problems, you save time for everyone.

Here’s what you need to do:

1 Make a reasonable effort to resolve the problem with the vendor.
Conduct all conversations in writing — e-mail or snail mail — and keep copies of everything. Don’t
let the negotiating go on for more than a couple of weeks.
2. If the vendor won’t make good on the product or service, write to the credit or debit card company.
Theoretically, you’re supposed to wait for the bill to come through; but in the case of a debit card, in particular, handling the problem immediately is best — don’t wait for your statement. In any case, make sure that your letter arrives at the credit or debit card company within 60 days of when the contested bill was sent to you.
3. Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested.
Keep the return receipt when it comes back.
4. Use the address on your credit or debit card statement for billing inquiries or billing disputes.
If you write to the payment address, you’ll never hear a thing.
5. In the letter, include your name, address, telephone number, account number, brief (and I do mean brief) description of the dispute, the amount that’s in question, your e-mail address, and copies of everything you can find.
Make your first shot across the bow overwhelming — not by whining on, page after page, but by presenting the facts clearly and succinctly and supporting what you say with incontrovertible documentation. Ask that the credit card or debit card company contact you by e-mail.
6. Make copies of everything you’re about to send.
Keep the whole package stapled together so you can refer to it later.
If you do all of those things, the law is on your side.
There are no laws, at this point, for stored value e-money or micropayment accounts.
If someone takes your money and disappears without supplying the goods you purchased, you have two
chances of seeing that money again: slim and none. But if you’re smart enough to use a credit card, the credit card company gets the short end of the stick.
It tickles me when people say they’re concerned that someone will steal their credit card number when they order something over the Internet. The fact is that you’re far more likely to have your number stolen by a clerk in a store or someone rummaging through a trash can. The largest (known) heist of credit card numbers to date came from a computer hacker who broke into the computers at a credit card processing company. The incident had absolutely nothing to do with online shopping.

Keeping private information private

Many a failing dot-com in the past five years has discovered that its most valuable asset is its mailing list. As the bubble burst, strapped companies scrambled for negotiable assets. Many a “private” mailing list ended up on the list of assets, right next to manicured office parks and used office chairs.
Never give out any personal information to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s good advice both on and off the computer. Yes, you have to give out your e-mail address if you order online, and you may have to divulge your telephone number. But the site selling you a printer doesn’t need to know your job title or annual income — much less your level of education.
Every Web site that asks for information from you better have a detailed Platform for Privacy Preferences (or P3P) privacy statement. The minute you’re asked for any personal information — even if it’s just to sign up for an account — you should ensure that you can tolerate the company’s stated privacy policy. To see the privacy statement, follow these steps:
7. In Internet Explorer, choose View Privacy Report.
The Web site divulges all the sites that contribute to the current page (as shown in Figure 72-3).
Every Web site that contributes something to the current page — pictures or text — appears in this privacy report.
• Figure 72-3: Every Web site that contributes something to the current page — pictures or text — appears in this privacy report.
2. Click the main site; then click the Summary button.
In Figure 72-3, I clicked, and then clicked Summary. The L.L. Bean site responded with its privacy report, part of which is shown in Figure 72^4.
Automated privacy reports can be complex, but good retail sites keep things simple.
• Figure 72-4: Automated privacy reports can be complex, but good retail sites keep things simple.
Not all companies participate in P3P privacy reporting., for example, has a comparatively simple privacy statement — basically, it won’t sell your information — and that’s it. No P3P entry. No automation. Just a straightforward statement.
3. Click OK and then click Close.
If you aren’t comfortable with a site’s stated privacy policy, pass it by. Plenty of alternatives are on the Web.
Remember that the privacy statement is a promise made by the company behind the site. There’s no independent way to verify if the company is, for example, selling your e-mail address or demographic information. Independent review organizations, such as and, react to specific complaints about companies, but they don’t monitor for privacy statement compliance. Only trust the privacy statement if you trust the company behind it.

Complaining Effectively

Got a beef? Did somebody rip you off online? The Federal Trade Commission wants to hear about it. Really.
Go to$.startup?Z_ ORG_CODE=PU01 and fill out the form.
You’ll hear back, I bet.

Mastering eBay

So many people use eBay these days that it’s worthwhile understanding some of the more arcane bits and pieces of the eBay way.
When you look at an item for sale, a large amount of information about the seller is encoded in some cute icons and staccato notices.

Look for these entries:

The number after the seller’s name: The number indicates the seller’s feedback rating. Feedback is the lifeblood of eBay, and it’s what keeps the venue making money while other online retailers and auction venues go belly up. The feedback rating tells you the net number of positive comments that have been submitted about a particular seller. A high number is a good sign, particularly when you realize that the seller gets 1 point for a positive review, 0 points for a so-so review, and -1 for a negative review. (The star icon following the number is a color-coded repeat of the number.)
Don’t just go by the feedback rating shown by ) the seller’s name; it only reflects the net positive rating (that is, the total number of positives, minus any negative feedback). Click the number to find out the total number of feedback submissions. For example, it’s possible for someone to have a feedback rating of 500, which ain’t a shabby feedback rating. But if you click the number, you may find that the seller has received several neutral comments (which don’t have any effect on the total rating), or negative feedback comments (which decrease the total shown by the seller’s name). If you’re interested in getting a quick look at how to use eBay to shop for bargains, check out eBay Bargain Shopping  by Marsha Collier.
A Power Seller icon: eBay recognizes its best sellers — ones who sell a lot, remain committed to the eBay rules, and get excellent feedback — with the Power Seller icon.
A Shades icon: The icon looks like a pair of sunglasses. It means that the person hasn’t been using eBay long enough to have established a reputation through feedback. Maybe they’re new. If an eBay seller changes his or her ID, the new ID gets a shades icon for the next 30 days. Although the shades icon doesn’t mean anything, uh, shady is going on, there’s usually a good reason why a member would change his or her ID — and frequently it’s because of sketchy feedback.
eBay has a large staff that keeps track of problems and works to resolve the inevitable conflicts that go along with running the world’s largest auction house. Before you bid, you should take a look at pages.ebay. com/help/confidence/programs-investigations. html and make sure that you feel comfortable with the safety net that eBay has in place.

Although eBay may or may not be responsible for various aspects of its offerings, keep the following points in mind:

eBay is not responsible for the item itself. If you buy a used washing machine and it falls apart the day you install it, eBay is not at fault.
Every bid is a legal and binding contract between you and the seller. If you have any questions about the item on offer, you should e-mail the seller and ask. Don’t place a bid until you are absolutely sure about every detail of the product, its quality, shipping, insurance, and so on. If you don’t ask questions before you place your bid, and you get something that matches the description but it wasn’t what you were expecting, that isn’t fraud — it’s lack of due diligence on your part.

Beware of anything that’s too good to be true.

Con men (and women) work eBay, too. If someone takes your money and runs, you have very little recourse unless you used a credit card. By the time you get to the point where you’re asking eBay to investigate, you might as well kiss your money goodbye.eBay says it has enough people on staff to police all their auctions. If you were in eBay’s shoes, what would you say?

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