Shopping Online

The basics of online shopping

The Internet provides a great shopping opportunity in terms of value and selection. One can find nearly anything but it's better to know what you are looking for. It usually helps to have an exact model number.

The Internet is a collection of server computers and you are using a client computer to access it. Computers are very good with numbers, not so good with abstract thoughts like: "a nice blue dress". You need to be specific!

There are many highly reputable merchants selling on the Internet. In fact, some of them, like Amazon provide spectacular customer service. They know that many people are not comfortable with on-line shopping and go out of their way to make the experience as pleasing and secure as possible, especially in the event of a problem.

For example, a few years ago I purchased a $400 electronic item that was determined to be defective after about a week of use. To make it good, Amazon sent a replacement item via FedEx. Then asked that I package the old item in the box from the new one and they provided a pre-paid FedEx return label. FedEx picked up the package at my front door the following day. The whole scenario took two days and cost me nothing!

There are also unscrupulous merchants on the Internet and there is always the threat of inadvertent identity theft if records are stolen from the merchant. A situation that occurs both locally and on-line. Clark Howard has said that the risk is actually higher locally. You still need to take a few common sense precautions when shopping on-line.

First use reputable merchants. All the merchants mentioned above or in C4S Shopping are reputable. Generally, don't let any merchant save your credit card number. It's just put into a database and your credit card number is only as secure as the merchant's security which may or may not be effective.

Some merchants, like Amazon have "World Class" security and can be trusted with a credit card number.

There are also a few intermediary credit card clearing companies that hold your credit card number and pass the funds on to the ultimate merchant. For Example Target's on-line store uses Amazon to clear credit card transactions. Google Checkout and PayPal are others. Today the primary problem is that there is no one trusted third party to handle credit card transactions.

Both Visa and Master Card also have free security services designed specifically for Internet shopping. If you use these services you have zero liability for unauthorized purchases. These services provide an extra security prompt when making on-line purchases. Again the current problem is that not all merchants use these services. It is a good idea to register your credit/debit card at Visa Verified or Master Card SecureCode before shopping on-line and look for merchants that use these services.

American Express does not have such a service. Instead they aggressively and legally pursue violators.

The other thing to be aware of is the difference between http:// and https://. Https is a secured Internet Protocol that encrypts transmissions between you and the merchant so that a third party cannot view an intercepted message. To determine that you are in a secure transmission notice two things.

First that the address has changed from http:// to https:// and second that a lock Secure has appeared at the bottom of the browser screen. If you are not in a secure mode never, never, never give a credit card number. The very nature of Internet transmission Packet Switching ensures that your communication takes multiple paths. If there is an unscrupulous individual on one of those paths an unencrypted credit card number could be stolen.


Finding the best price

Now that we have covered the basics, let's discuss how to find the best price for any item.

Nearly every merchant now has an Internet presence. Even those stores that you usually visit at the Mall or local shopping center do business on the Internet. Often these merchants have better prices on the Internet than in the stores. Visit your favorite store on-line here:

Other merchants do business exclusively on the Internet, or are local in another state or country. You only pay sales tax for merchants who have retail stores in your state. Take a look at some of these:

Merchants like Abe Books is a consortium of Used and Rare Book Dealers from around the world. Abe Books handles the financial side of the transaction. It clears your credit card, converts currency and passes the funds on to the merchant. You only need to deal with Abe Books and they police their merchants.

At Abe Books you can find anything from a $0.50 paperback novel to a 1687 first edition of Isaac Newton's Principia at cool $250,000 (US$) from a dealer in Switzerland.

See also our C4S Shopping web site section here for more merchants.

To use if you know what you want but have not decided on a specific model, you can browse through what is available. When shopping like in any other activity, the more you know about your objective, the better you will do.

Let's assume we are looking for a digital camera that takes 10 megapixel pictures and don't want to spend more than $200.

Go to, click on Electronics and Digital Cameras.


This takes us to Digital Cameras. Notice on the Left side, we can limit our selection by Price, Brand, Family, Zoom, or Resolution.

Since Price is first we select the $140 - $240 price range. Once we are in that price range we select At least 10 megapixel.

All Digital Cameras


This takes us to cameras in our price range with a resolution of at least 10 megapixels. There are 100's of cameras meeting our requirements and we can look at all of them and refine our search.

Let's select the Canon PowerShot A1100 IS, the second camera in the list by clicking on it.

Our Digital Cameras


On the camera page, notice a few things near the beginning. The first are other customer opinions of this product in the Customer Rating. This particular cameras does not have any reviews yet because it is new. Sometimes these reviews can be very useful, pointing out things not found in advertising or specifications.

We can look at the Product Details (specifications) or Product accessories by clicking on those fields in Information:.

We also see that this camera is available from different 31 merchants at prices ranging from $130 to $230.

Canon PowerShot


In the lower portion you will find all the merchants that sell this product along with their price.

Notice that you can select sorting of the merchants by a number of criteria. Price (low to high) is always useful.

Also notice that if you told where you live, shipping and any sales tax is included in the price so you are not surprised by shipping charges.

The first merchant with the best price is Newegg. It is a well rated store with 4-1/2 checks and 4,093 reviews. So this is a great place to buy this camera.

But scroll down and look at some of the other merchants. Home Goodz,for example is a store that we have never heard of, and has never been rated. This is a merchant to avoid. They may be great but there is no evidence. Do you want to be the first to find out?

The first three low priced stores are all fine merchants. All are highly rated by thousands of customers. You could purchase from any of them.

We found a better camera (12 megapixels) and saved $70.

The Stores


As you have seen, you can use to browse for a product or search for the best price on a specific product.

You can also use Internet technology to shop locally at ShopLocal. Simply enter your Zip code and ShopLocal will find the best price in your area.

Amazon started as a book seller but now sells nearly everything imaginable; books, electronics, computers, cameras, shoes, TV's, refrigerators, washing machines and food. If you only want to deal with one store, Amazon is for you!

They are reputable, honest, provide outstanding customer service and offer great prices. Don't forget, no sales tax either.

Go to If you already have an account Amazon remembers your IP address and presents a customized page based on your purchase history. If you do not have an account, Click on Your Account and you will be presented with the opportunity to create a new account.




Amazon Account


Here we are creating a new account. All we need is an email address and a password to create an account. The email address will be verified by Amazon.

Over time you will probably want to give Amazon a credit card and a list of the other people that you normally ship to. For now only an email and password is needed.

You will not be asked for a credit card until you check out.

Amazon makes it very easy to send birthday or holiday gifts to family and friends. They will even gift wrap for a small fee.

If you click on Your Account, sign in, scroll down to Settings and Manage and click on Manage Address Book You will be presented with your Amazon address book.

Here we can edit, add or delete addresses of the people we ship to.

Amazon also offers a gift card. Since Amazon sells nearly everything, a gift card is always a welcome choice.

Amazon Address Book



Amazon Categories


If we click on Shop All Departments we see some of the Amazon departments.


In addition to selling their usual products, Amazon has marketing arrangements with other merchants where Amazon collects the funds and ensures that the merchant ships the product. Since Amazon has such good security, many merchants use them to complete transactions. Target, for example uses Amazon.


Amazon started by selling Books. You will find that Amazon sells every book-in-print and through arrangements with Rare and Used Book Dealers, they sell numerous out-of-print books.

Amazon also sells CD's, DVD's VHS, and video games.

We can download digital music or movies to an MP3 player.

Amazon sells an electronic reading device known as a Kindle. This device allows you to download books, magazines, newspapers and Blogs automatically at reduced prices over the printed media. Most new books, for example, are in the $10 range. More information on the Kindle may be found here .


You can see the other general categories of products available at Amazon.




A full list of Amazon departments can be found by clicking on Shop All Departments. To view any category, simply click on it.

Full List


Besides "world class" security, Amazon shopping is secure because you receive an email confirming every order where you have the opportunity to cancel that order, or report a fraud. This email contains the name and address for both the Billing and Shipping.

Anyone stealing your account would expose their name and address.

Amazon Confirm email


After a purchase you have an opportunity to rate whatever you purchased. This can be useful to other people who are considering a purchase of the same item.

For example, these AA batteries look great. 100 alkaline batteries for $35. Sounds too good to be true.

Whenever that happens, check the other customer reviews.

AA batteries


Where we find that 7 out of 13 reviews were negative.

Many people who purchased these batteries found that they did not last very long and that the low price was not really worth it.

We can only conclude that they are not worth it.

So it's a good practice to rate your purchases for the benefit of others.



So review the product when you get that rating email after your purchase.

Rate letter


If you are using Firefox, be sure to get the Amazon plugin HERE.


Go and shop wisely on the Internet or locally and save a lot of $$'s.