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Where Can I Find a Good Store

When I ask my search engine for sites that deal with a particular type of product, I get thousands of hits and most are junk.  What to do?

That’s one reason we put our book together, The Best of Online Shopping. We went through these enormous site lists, seeking out the best stores, so that you won’t have to waste your time clicking, going, backing up, and so on through a dozen sites, just to find one that is actually a first-rate store.

Search mechanisms are still extremely crude. If a site mentions the topic, bang, there it is on the list of results. You have no easy way to distinguish the good from the bad, the stores from the personal sites, the high school class pages from the Australian community council pages. Result: You may waste a ton of time going to sites that turn out to be absolute duds.

Even using the so-called advanced searches, you get piles of junk. For instance, if the search mechanism lets you specify a word that must NOT appear on the page, as a way of filtering out crummy sites, you have to imagine all the words that bad sites will use but good sites will omit.

And when you try to figure out words that must ALSO be on the page, along with the product name, you can try secure (on the theory that only a real store will mention its secure server), but you can’t be sure oforder, purchase, or even shipping, because those all appear on sites that are nothing but online catalogs.

The bad news is that even advanced searches cannot pinpoint your product’s Web stores, and nothing but.

How do I find more stores?

Sometimes you are after a very specific item that most shops don’t carry, or you just want to do some more comparison shopping.

Then, if you still haven’t quite found the shop you want, try the shopping lists at major portals (look under Shopping).

The portal staff have selected their own favorites, or, in some cases, their partners. But remember, these sites are not necessarily the best, or even the most popular, stores. They may actually be a) ones that have paid to be listed or b) ones that have come up highest on the search results, a dubious distinction.

Remember that these long lists are just links to stores; the list servers themselves offer nothing for sale. If you have stamina, though, try any of the following lists:

• About.com (formerly The Mining Company) at http://www.about.com

• All Internet Shopping Directory athttp://www.all-internet.com/

• Buyer’s Index athttp://www.buyersindex.com/

• Excite Shopping athttp://www.excite.com/shopping/

• Go To at http://www.goto.com/

• HotBot Shopping Directory athttp://www.hotbot.com/shop/

• Lycos Shopping athttp://www.lycos.com/

• Shopfind at http://www.shopfind.com

• Snap at http://www.snap.com/

• Yahoo Shopping athttp://shopping.yahoo.com/

Is there a Better Business Bureau online?

Yes. You can get BBB information two ways. If you can locate the home address of the company, go to the BBB Web site, at http://www.bbb.com, and look up a bureau near the company (see Locate a BBB). You can contact the local office to get a free report about the company, telling you how long it has been in business, whether the BBB has fielded any complaints about the company, and whether or not the FTC or a state Attorney General has moved against the company during the last three years.

The BBB has an online division, called BBBOnline athttp://www.bbbonline.com/ They have set up some criteria a company must meet before it can put up the Better Business Bureau seal on their site. The company must have been in business for a year, have a plan for resolving complaints fast, correct or withdraw misleading Internet advertising, and post the company’s phone number and email on the site, along with the name of at least one company official. When a company meets these standards and earns a "satisfactory" rating, it can put up the BBB seal. The BBB Online folks run periodic surprise checks to make sure the company is still following the rules. If you click the seal, you get a Reliability Report on the company, direct from the Better Business Bureau; that report will show whether or not there have been any complaints.

Where can I find the store with the lowest prices for my particular product?

In any product category, there are usually three or four stores contending for the crown of Bargain Basement.

We have discovered that no one store has all the lowest prices. For one product, one store wins; for another product, another store wins.

But the difference between the low-price leaders is usually less than a buck, up to $20, and less than $5 on items costing between $20 and $75.

Then there is usually a cluster of stores offering good discounts but not the best. You may want to shop at these stores for reasons other than price: they often offer more information, better service, better shipping, more guarantees, whatever.

And finally there are a few stores that show no interest in giving you a good deal: we have usually dropped these places, unless they have items no one else offers.

There are a number of services with robots that go out on the Web and look for lowest prices. Most of these services do not actually look at every shop on the Web, but instead scan a few dozen sites, all of which are known to offer good deals.

You type in a product, and they respond with a list of all the stores (in their group) that sell the item, with the current prices.

You’ll find quite a range of prices, even though all are lower than retail. For instance, a music CD may be quoted as $11 from the least expensive store, and $18 by the most expensive in such a table. If price is all you care about, though, you can find today’s lowest price at these sites:

• Bottom Dollar athttp://www.bottomdollar.com

• Compare Net athttp://comparenet.com/

• Killer App at http://www.killerapp.com/

• My Simon at http://www.mysimon.com/

• Price Scan athttp://www.pricescan.com/

• Price Search at http://pricesearch.net/

• Price Watch athttp://www.pricewatch.com/

• The View at http://www.the-view.com/shopper.html

Also, About.com’s guides list stores they like, in their subject-matter area, which often covers a lot more than your particular product. Some guides even comment on the prices, too, telling you which stores offer the best and worst deals, athttp://www.about.com/