Shopping has changed a bit over the last year thanks to all the retailers appearing on the Web. In 1993, sales via the Internet were estimated to total about $100,000; in 1995, that figure should be over $70 million, and current estimates for 1996 are over $500 million. I think we’ve hit three different types of shopping (not including brain-dead impulse buying via TV). Physical stores are excellent when you don’t know what you want, but you think the store has something interesting. You can’t beat the bandwidth of browsing in person. Mail order catalogs that clog your mailbox this time of year are good for browsing and easier than vying with hordes of shoppers for the last parking spot at the MegaMall.
This year, finally, we have Web retailers that offer the best in what I call "database shopping." If you know precisely what you want – particularly a commodity item like a CD or a book – it’s often easiest to do a search, find the item, and order it right away on the Web. For the most part, I haven’t found Web stores useful for browsing, because I have to make an effort to get there and I easily become distracted once I arrive. I also like the fact that Web shopping is usually fast, and retailers often deliver purchases quickly via one of the main delivery services.
That said, here are URLs to the Web-based stores I’ve used. I recommend them only in that I’ve used them, they had good prices, and everything worked. I’m sure there are tons of other excellent outfits on the Web, and I encourage you to patronize the ones you like best.
I order books from WordsWorth in Harvard Square, Cambridge, partly because I like the physical store so much. It’s always one of my stops during Boston Macworld Expo.
I mostly buy Mac hardware and software from Cyberian Outpost, which was started by Daryl Peck, who had been in charge of Mac developer Inline Design. Their prices seem good and I like the way their Web site is set up, unlike some other computer retailers that I’ve seen online.
I didn’t order any music CDs this year, but if I had, I would undoubtedly have searched on "shopping" in Yahoo to find a CD vendor. Check it out – I’ll bet you can find a number of specific musical items on your lists.
Oh, a note to forestall the inevitable comments. I’m no more concerned about credit card fraud on the Internet than in real life. You may be, but I’ve never heard of a recorded instance of a credit card number being stolen during an online transaction. My credit card number is more vulnerable every time a waiter takes the card out of my sight for five minutes at a restaurant. Judge your own level of comfort with entering your credit card in a Web-based order form and act accordingly.