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Karen Woerner

Buyer Beware!

Karen Woerner, CUGG

October 2001

Does this sound familiar? You're innocently surfing the web and suddenly: Wow—look at that—I always wanted one of those—gee, golly, I gotta have this! I wanna buy this now! But then the doubts appear: Is this really a bargain? Can I trust this site? Would this just be an impulse buy? Do I want to transmit my credit card information over the Internet? Why do they want my e-mail address and my home address? Do I have any recourse if things go wrong? These are all good questions to ask, questions that will be the topics of discussion in this column in the weeks to come.


My father taught me that wise shoppers shop around and know the value of an item before purchasing it. Wise virtual shoppers visit various sites and compare products and features and prices to get an idea of the market value of a product.

What is true for real world shopping is true for shopping on the Internet—let the buyer beware. One of the best ways of getting a great deal is to research your purchase ahead of time. One useful tool is to use online e-magazines for product reviews. On the Internet there are any number of sources with product descriptions, comparisons and critiques. Many of the sites deal with computing. One such site is It is an extension of the print magazine and a valuable resource for computing product information.

One of my favorite sources for product reviews is Consumer Reports (now available to subscribers online at Consumer Reports® Online).

    * ADVANTAGES: no advertising, trusted publication.

    * DISADVANTAGE: information only fully available to subscribers.

In researching this article, I found a number of sites with product reviews and price comparisons. Although some claimed to be non-profit and consumer-oriented (like and many of the sites had advertising, which could create a conflict of interest. Look for sites that are recommended by sources you trust...more on this in a later column.

One of my favorite sites,, has price comparisons and product reviews.

    * ADVANTAGES: CNET does not sell anything but it is supported by advertising (much like your local newspaper); extensive site with information on a variety of consumer topics.

    * DISADVANTAGE: Scope limited to computing products.

There are even sites that keep track of prices for you. Of course, the vendors pay a fee to advertise their prices and (hopefully) sell merchandise to the internet surfer. One such site is, a source for those looking for computer equipment and software. I looked over the site and I was impressed with the prices listed by the advertisers. This is a good source for the buyer who knows exactly what he is looking for.

    * ADVANTAGES: Many links to various sites; easy to navigate; good indexing.

    * DISADVANTAGES: Check out the shipping cost for the item—most of the items I checked had very high shipping costs, often pricing the item above the price charged by local retail outlets. Also, check out the brand names and specs so you know what you are getting.

Shopping the larger retailers will allow you to compare prices on different brands of the same item. It is valuable to the consumer to surf some of the more prominent shopping sites like Amazon.Com (it's not just books anymore), K-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and even general sites that provide consumer links such as and

Lesson for the day:

Research your product before you buy.

Happy surfing!

Next installment: Can I trust this site?


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