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... Dell/Ebey/OnSale/Dash.com/ Amazon.com
The 25 Best E-Commerce Sites
No surprise. A third of the people who buy online shop at Amazon.com. That percentage would be respectable if you were talking about the customers for an anchor department store at some local mall in Paramus, N.J., but Amazon is the anchor store for all online shopping.
The pioneer of direct computer sales online is selling $30 million worth of gear a day from its website, so it’s obviously doing something right. Dell’s ability to customize orders set the standard for online computer retailing, and its AskJeeves.com-like "Ask Dudley" feature amply handles the inevitable technical questions that first-time customers are bound to have.
You might expect the king of TV-based shopping to make a seamless leap to the Internet, having distribution and customer service already in place. Unlike other superstores, the IQVC ho me page gives you tons of info without overwhelming you. Of course, maybe QVC shoppers just love being able to buy what they want, when they want it.
It isn’t just the never-ending cavalcade of inventory -- 250,000 new items are put up for auction every day here -- that keeps its 5.6 million registered users hooked. eBay figure d out that trust means everything to e-commerce. To that end, it was among the first sites to encourage its buyers to publicly rate sellers. This year eBay even insured transactions so that customers would no longer have to worry about fraud.
Part outlet store and part liquidator’s auction, the best feature of the auction half is that it never refers to people who purchase products as "buyers" but rather as & quot;winners." OnSale successfully gives shopping the air of sport -- which helps explain its hugely male demographic.
BEST SHOPPING TOOLS:
The "Simon" character on this shopping bot looks like the kind of doll that would become animated and go homicidal in a horror movie. Aside from that unsettling detail, this site is helpful; it shows you products and prices from more than 1,500 online merchants. Simon may look psycho, but he is at least smart enough to give people who are looking for camcorders and frying pans different ways to frame their product search.
If you were a corporation, Dash would be your vice president in charge of discounts. When you sign up for Dash, you get rebates from its participating merchants. You also get a downloa dable tool bar that follows you wherever you shop, telling you when you could be buying the same item for less at a Dash-affiliated store.
Say you’re in the market for a digital camera. Or cookware. Productopia will give you three sets of recommendations based on quality, style and value. Then, once you’ve decid ed whether you want to be cheap, chic or sensible, Productopia refers you to online and offline vendors.
Have you ever gone for a drink after work and, when the bartender asks what kind of Scotch you want, you say, "Just give me the cheap stuff"? If you have, this site’s fo r you. eSmarts shows you the places where you can get your shopping done without having to spend too much money.
BEST MOST CUSTOMER-FRIENDLY:
This sports-gear and -equipment site gets a good grade for making its big inventory easily accessible. If you’re looking for football kneepads, for example, you need only two clic ks to go from Fogdog’s home page to a screen that shows pictures and prices for their entire kneepad selection.
One expert told me that Avon was the giant of the beauty category, "but check out Clinique. They have very loyal customers," she said. I can see why. This site bonds with you instantly. It hits you right off the bat with a survey about your skin type, and once you answer, it tells you what products you need. After you’ve shared that kind of intimate information, how could you shop anywhere else?
Is there anything worse than people prattling on about their pets? This site, in addition to carrying a full line of pet products, has extensive community features that give pet owners a place to get it all out of their system: A sample discussion topic is "tell us some of the silly names you have for your pet." Let’s keep that kind of talk online where it belongs.
The greatest virtue of Wine.com, formerly Virtual Vineyards, is its user-friendly, easy-to-understand search tool, which makes anyone feel like a wine know-it-all. And it treats you th e same whether you’re going to buy the $325 Pinot Noir or just click on the "bang for the buck" specials.
This computer-hardware and -software has a sales push embedded in its checkout process that obviously helps itself but can help you as well -- it unobtrusively alerts you to other prod ucts that would complement your purchase. If you’re buying a G3 Powerbook, for example, Outpost shows you a raft of software and accessories that go with the computer. If its pitch were in-your-face, you would hate it. The cool part is you don’t ; it comes across as helpful.
BEST IDEA FOR A SITE:
Its car-buying process allows you to bypass the dealer entirely. The interface is easy to use. You pick out the car you want, and as you add options like a CD player or side air bags, you see the price go up instantly. As soon as you begin the process, you also get a delivery date.
It almost sounds crazy, but it works. Here’s a way for parents to let their credit-cardless children shop online. You can set up an account for your kids and give them lump sums o r even allowances. Then the children can make purchases at affiliated merchants without giving out personal information. Parents can also restrict sites they don’t want their children visiting.
Gift registries online make sense, and this site shows why. Here, you can have friends buy you china, linen, an outboard motor or even pay down a part of some newlyweds’ mortgage. A similar site that just launched and is worth visiting is Wishclick.com. Instead of offering up its own product selection like TheKnot, it lets you carve a gift list from the vastness of e-commerce sites everywhere.
MOST CUSTOMER SATISFACTION:
The Disney name gives this site the closest thing it could have to a captive audience, but it still treats visitors like honored guests. Most surveys give Disney high marks for retaining its corporate character while making it easy to get at all the stuff your kids want.
Most stores carry the same stock of DVDs. But this site appears to have the greatest inventory not just of movies but also of fun paraphernalia such as movie posters and gear with movie-studio logos. Plus, it’s known for pleasing shoppers.
While Expedia and Travelocity are actually the most popular online travel agents, I prefer previewtravel.com's ease of use. It really makes it simple to plan a trip. Not only can you book tickets and make hotel and car reservations, but you can c all live customer service around the clock and view guides that feature maps and videos of more than 200 destinations. Travelocity must like the site-it plans to complete a merger with Preview early next year.
See all the thumbnail images of sleeping bags? Don't they make it easier to decide which one to further investigate? Great design and easy click-through make this site the place to fin d camping gear. Bargain hunters can check out its REI-Outlet.com site.
Already getting high marks from shoppers for its usability, the clothing-seller site upped its game in September when it began offering two new features: Lands’ End Live, which lets you enter your phone number and receive a creepy-quick phone call from a customer-service rep; and Shop with a Friend, which allows two people in remote locations to get online, page through the site together, use text-based chat and drop purchases into the same basket.
Site designers employ soft green hues and flower-bud images so artfully on this home page, they make your computer seem like the perfectly logical place to start working on a garden. Everything about this site makes you want to buy plants. Coming this Christmas: an interactive station where you can design and buy your own wreath.
This site understands that people buying shampoo and deodorant are simply crossing things off their to-do list and want to move quickly. It has armed the site with a feature called &qu ot;1-click" -- pioneered by its online cousin Amazon -- which lets you buy one thing after another, a click at a time.
A place to comparison shop and research products, this site has plans in the works to offer free Internet service without forcing a user to watch a bunch of ads. How? Free surfers will have to start every trek from WorldSpy’s home page