REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 5, 2000 — There used to be no surer sign of the approaching holidays than the neighborhood kids ringing your doorbell in October, selling wreaths for one school fund-raiser or another. Unless maybe it was the heap of catalogs in the mailbox, illustrated with Hanukkah candles and prancing reindeer.
But this year, the best omen of the impending season may be industry observers advising online retailers to gear up early for holiday shoppers. Jupiter Research, a leading online research firm, estimates that consumers will spend $11.6 billion online this holiday season, up 66 percent from last year’s total of $7 billion.
Clearly, online retailing is growing faster than a 10-year-old’s Christmas list. And the trend is likely to continue as more and more consumers jump on board, drawn by the rising number of companies taking their business online.
Whether you’re an old hand at online buying or you’ve yet to make your first purchase over the Internet, choosing the right places to play Santa on the Web can make all the difference between
“ho, ho, ho”
“no, no, no.”
To boost your chances of having an enjoyable online buying experience, it pays to know what to look for. The top 10 consumer tips can be summarized with the handy acronym SHOP FOR FUN.
ecurity. Make sure the site you choose uses secure transaction technology and offers clearly stated privacy and customer service protections, so you can shop and buy online with confidence.
uman interaction. An online shopping site should offer easy-to-find merchant contact information and allow you to send email if you need help with unfulfilled orders or other issues.
pinions. Making informed purchase decisions is easier when you can consult expert opinions, buyer’s guides and peer reviews. Check Web sites to see if these resources are available.
owerful searching . Look for a shopping site that incorporates powerful, intelligent search tools. Sites that let you search across multiple stores and categories help you find just the gift at exactly the right price.
amiliarity. Online sites that give you access to familiar merchants and brand names will make your shopping experience more comfortable, because trusted retailers have a reputation for quality and customer service.
ne-stop shopping. Finding, selecting and buying merchandise online is a cinch when you can do all your shopping on one site. Choose a site that combines wide product selection, secure shopping services, detailed information for research, and tools that let you compare the prices and features of competing products side by side.
eturn policies. Insist on a shopping site that clearly displays a return policy and delivery method. A simple return process closes the loop on a positive online shopping experience.
ast links. If you’re a bargain-hunter, you’ll want fast access to sales, deals and special offers. A shopping site should have the technology to get you there with a single click of a mouse.
ser-friendly services. Look for a site that offers visitors those extra touches shoppers enjoy — such as wish lists, gift certificates, gift guides, auction services and contact information for local retailers.
avigation. Make sure the site you choose offers easy navigation. Finding the products you want and the tools you need should be an intuitive process.
Once you know what to look for — and what to look out for — visiting the MSN network of Internet services ( http://www.msn.com/ ) to go shopping online may be a good next step. This online port of call offers a boatload of resources to help shoppers find what they’re looking for and make informed purchase decisions, whether they’re on the MSN Computing Central computer user’s information service or on the specific shopping page MSN eShop ( http://www.eshop.msn.com ). MSN eShop — the No. 1 online shopping portal for consumers, according to a recent report by Media Metrix, Inc. — provides secure shopping services and connections to more than 100 established merchants. And it offers a one-stop shopping experience by combining a large selection of products, extensive information, side-by-side comparison tools, search and research features, expert opinions, consumer reviews, buying tips, gift ideas and a centralized return center, all in one place.
‘Tis the season to check out this convenient destination. Whether you end up buying online or using its resources to locate the nearest
“brick and mortar”
outlet that carries the same merchandise, this is one place where you can wrap up your holiday shopping with ease.