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ONLINE HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE

Consumer Electronics

November 16, 2000|ASHLEY DUNN, ashley.dunn@latimes.com

Electronics is a slam dunk for online buying because the selection on the Internet is virtually infinite and the discounts can be jaw-dropping. The problem is that no one place seems have a lock on the best prices and selection. The trick is to use search services such as MySimon.com, Price Watch and PriceScan.com to find the right store with the right prices and products.

Best site to shop: Epinions.com (http://www.epinions.com) and Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com). These sites have the best reviews, tips and product recommendations.

Best site to buy: A buying search engine, such as MySimon.com or PriceGrabber.com, which will turn up a list of prices from various merchants. The huge range in prices will give you a sense of how badly you can be ripped off if you don't do your homework. These two sites also note the reputations of merchants.

Convenience: If you just want to get in and get out and don't care whether you get the best price, nothing beats Amazon.com.

Customer service: Amazon.com has a well-earned reputation for treating its customers right, allowing full refunds for up to 30 days. The real measure of good service is in all the little things that Amazon.com will do for its customers. One shortcoming with Amazon is the difficulty in finding a customer service phone number so you can actually talk to a human being. It exists, but it is hard to find. On the plus side, however, the company's e-mail responses are usually very prompt.

Shipping and return policy: Shipping prices vary widely, depending on the merchant. The easiest way to check shipping costs is to use PriceGrabber's "bottom line" calculator. You enter your ZIP code and PriceGrabber then displays the total price--including shipping--for all the merchants that carry the product you want to buy.

For return policies, MySimon gives a brief description for each merchant, but you're better off checking each merchant's Web site to see whether it accepts returns or charges a restocking fee.

How it compares with offline: When it comes to price, convenience and selection, it's hard to beat buying something online. For example, Sony's lowest price digital camcorder goes for $799 at Best Buy in Los Angeles. Using PriceGrabber, I found the same camera online for $565.

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