With such a world of mail-order opportunities to choose from on the Internet, how do you find what you want? And are some things better to buy than others?
The best way to get started is to buy something that's a known quantity, such as name-brand electronics, books, CDs, and DVDs. That way, you know it's going to be the same product no matter where you buy it.
Next, how do you find the merchant who has what you want at the best price? Start by looking at the Web sites of retailers you're familiar with. Then compare the prices you find with less familiar retailers with the help of comparison-shopping sites like Shopfind.com, eShop.com, or Buy.com. Type in the item you're looking for to get a list of sites that carry it and the various prices. Try to shop only at Web sites that are professionally designed and that meet certain criteria that tell you they are a legitimate business. (See the next page, "Spending Your E-Dollars Safely.")The Extras Add Up
As you shop, remember that additional charges like shipping and handling may drive up your price. Calculate shipping costs at the site or call the site's toll-free number for a quote. On the other hand, the total price may be lower than you expect thanks to free shipping, rebates, first-time-buyer offers, or frequent-purchase plans.
As you venture into merchandise that is less predictable, like clothes, be sure to look at the site's return policy. Can you get a full refund? Is there a time limit? Does the site charge a restocking fee? These policies should be posted clearly, but if you can't find them, call or e-mail the company. And always print out a copy of each purchase order with a confirmation number, and file it.
Under federal law, a company should ship your order within the time it advertises. If a deadline is not given, the law says the company should ship the product within 30 days. Companies must get your approval for delays or let you cancel the order for a refund.