by January 4, 2000 0 comments

In
the brick-and-mortar world, some of us are born shoppers, always nosing out
the best bargains. May be it’s a set style. May be it’s a thick skin
that helps them demand atrociously low prices from vendors, and get them.
But not all of us are comfortable asking vendors to fork out an extra-sweet
deal.

There’s good news for you
on the Web. Bargains are stated upfront, and the anonymity of the Web makes
looking around easier, if that’s a problem for you. And you need nothing
more than a few URLs and a search engine to nose out the best bargain. I
almost forgot–you’ll need some patience working your way from site to
site. And you’ll also need the tips we’re going to give you. So, here
goes…

A cookie-eat-cookie world
Most e-com sites use cookies to keep track of what you do while you are at
the site and also to manage your shopping cart. So if your browser has
cookies disabled, the site and shopping cart won’t be displayed correctly.
In short, you need to have your browser accept cookies in order to shop
online.

In Netscape Navigator, you do
this by clicking on the Edit>Preferences menu and click on Advanced tab.
Here, click on “Accept only cookies that get sent back to the
originating server”. In Internet Explorer, you enable cookies from the
View>Internet Options menu. Click on the Advanced tab, scroll down to
cookies, and enable either “accept all cookies” or “prompt
before accepting cookies”.

If you’re buying flowers
and cakes….

Flowers and cakes are the costliest things you can buy online. And more
often than not, you’ll end up spending a fortune getting your flowers
delivered. There’s no benchmark price for these. The cheapest we could get
was 15 chinese roses (smallish flowers) for Rs 375. But then if there’s a
special someone to whom you have to send that message, then we guess price
is no limitation.

NRI Vs Desi
Many of the sites that sell Indian stuff are run for NRIs by NRIs. So, the
prices will be high and in dollars, the range will be minimal and the focus
will be on gift items or ethnic items. So, if you’re looking for goods of
day-to-day use, or if you’re trying to shop with a rupee credit card or
with a rupee check, then you can give most of these sites a miss.

Checks take time
Some sites give you the option of paying by checks. Only problem is that
they’ll wait for the check to be realized before shipping you the goods.
Now, this could take quite some time. You mail a check from, say, Bangalore
to Mumbai. It takes at least two days to reach the address. Add another day
for them to send the check to their bank. Now, depending on your bank and
theirs, it could take anywhere from two days to twenty for the check to be
cleared and the money to be credited to the vendor’s account. And then
they’ll ship the product to you. So, if you plan to shop by check, prepare
to wait for delivery.

Look that gift horse in
the mouth

Most Websites offer deals and discount prices on some products. But don’t
jump at the first deal you come across. There may be a better deal at some
other site, on the same product.

For example, at the time of
this writing, Fabmart was offering Rs 160 off on the 8 CD set of HMV
Millennium Hindi Song collection (list price Rs 2,000). Good buy? Not
exactly. Rediff was offering
Rs 500 off on the same. Not all deals are deals

Unfortunately, not all discounts that you see on a Website are true
discounts. For example, Rediff had Asterix comics (paperback edition) on
sale at a list price of Rs 367, on which they offered a discount of Rs 55.
Only problem with the deal was that bookstands were selling the same titles
without any discount for Rs 205 for the new edition and Rs 167 for the old
edition. A similar issue is that of sites charging more than prevailing
market prices. This happens particularly with products whose prices change
rapidly, such as vegetables and fruits.

So, if you plan to buy stuff
regularly online, it’ll help your pocket to keep an eye on regular market
prices.

Hidden costs
You may end up paying substantially more than the price you see listed on
the Web page. This could come as shipping charges or currency exchange
charges. Let’s take shipping charges first. Many Indian sites charge
shipping charges over listed prices. This varies from site to site. So read
the fine print to find out what extras you’ll have to pay. Some sites are
clever, and say that shipping charges will be charged depending on the size
of the product you order, or on actuals or something like that. Before you
order, ask them over mail to tell you the exact shipping charges, and then
decide if it’s worthwhile ordering.

Charagh Din goes even
further. The site lists the prices of shirts in rupees. So, let’s say you
selected a shirt costing Rs 600. Now, they’ll add a five-dollar shipping
charge for India. You’ll most likely think "It’s only five
dollars" and proceed with the purchase. Bue wait. You’re about to pay
a shipping charge of 5×44 = Rs 220 for a shirt. Do you really want a Charagh
Din shirt that badly?

Secure your data
Ensure that you give out critical data such as your credit card number only
to sites that take it over a secure connect. Otherwise prying eyes may be
watching. How do you check for a secure connection? See the piece
"Securing your Browser" (page 79) for details.

If you’re in a hurry…
If you have a
deadline on the goods you are shopping for, say, for example, you’re
shopping for a gift for your favorite niece on her birthday, then it’s
better to go to a brick-and-mortar shop to buy it. In our experience, most
of the sites didn’t deliver on the promised dates. And some of them even
delivered the wrong products.

Print that confirmation
All sites send you an e-mail confirmation of the order you placed. This will
have an order number. Some sites even display your order number immediately
on placing the order. Print this document and keep it safe. If you have to
follow up with the site on your order, you’ll need this order number. And
what if your machine crashes before the ordered item is delivered? So, print
your order confirmation immediately on receipt.

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