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Reasons to Rejoice in Web Gift Buying

Offers such as virtual credit cards and free shipping relieve some holiday hassles and can save some cash.

November 29, 2001|CHRISTINE FREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although holiday shoppers are expected to spend more money online this season, a range of merchant promotions--from interest-free charge accounts to free shipping--can actually save consumers some cash.

Several sites even eliminate the hassle of holiday shipping, e-mailing friends and family their gifts.

Some of the latest online promotions include:

Virtual credit cards: Those with limited credit can shop online with Amazon's "cardless credit card," a virtual charge account. It's the online equivalent of a department store charge card.

When shopping at http://www.amazon.com , customers charge their purchases to their Amazon accounts. The "buy now, pay later" link appears with products that cost $99 or more. Citi Commerce Solutions, which issues the accounts, sends out monthly bill statements.

Apply for a card online at http://www.amazon.com/credit and receive an instant credit decision from Citi Commerce Solutions. Credit limits are determined on an individual basis.

Orders of $200 or more placed through the end of January are interest-free for 90 days. The APR is 22.9% and default rate is 26.9%.

Store pickup: Minimize the hassle of holiday crowds and avoid shipping charges by buying products online and picking them up at the store. Starting this week, consumers can shop at http://www.sears.com and order products for same-day pickup.

Submit a ZIP Code and the site will search local stores' inventory to find one with the product in stock. Once the customer pays for it, the site sends a message to the store, where an employee takes the item off the shelf and delivers it to merchandise pickup. Sears sends the customer a confirmation e-mail, noting the purchase is ready.

If a product is not in stock, Sears will deliver it to a local store in three to six days for pickup.

Customers must bring their credit cards and confirmation numbers to merchandise pickup.

After an order is placed, an e-mail confirmation is sent in about 90 minutes. Same-day pickup requires orders be placed at least two hours before the store closes. The store pickup feature is available for all products on Sears' Web site except fine jewelry.

Several other online merchants already offer the service, although pickup times vary.

Circuit City offers same-day pickup of electronics purchased at http://www.circuitcity.com . (Amazon, which sells Circuit City products on its site, also offers the feature.) Best Buy, however, reserves up to 24 hours to send a confirmation e-mail after receiving an order at http://www.bestbuy.com .

Free shipping: Many online merchants offer free shipping during the holidays.

If you spend enough.

Most free-shipping promotions are available only for orders of $100 or more. Avoid spending more to save on shipping by comparing offers. Some sites offer free shipping for much smaller orders. But make sure to read the fine print. There's often a catch.

Staples and Office Depot, for example, offer free shipping on orders of $50 or more, but only to customers who live within the company's shipping area. (Submit ZIP Code at http://www.staples.com or http://www.officedepot.com to find out.)

Barnes & Noble offers free shipping at http://www.barnesandnoble.com on orders of at least two items. Purchases can be shipped only by ground and to the same address.

ABT Electronics, at http://www.abtelectronics.com, features several shipping promotions, including free shipping for orders weighing less than 50 pounds.

For a detailed list of shipping promotions--as well as other online discounts--check out Yahoo Shopping at http://shopping.yahoo.com/promotions/specialoffers .

Online gift certificates: Most online merchants sell gift certificates redeemable at the mall, but some actually offer gift certificates that can be e-mailed to the recipient.

Select the amount of money for the gift, submit credit card information and the recipient's e-mail address, and the site will send an e-mail with the gift certificate code when the purchase is confirmed.

Retailers that offer such gift certificates include Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, CDNow, REI and Service Merchandise.

The downside: E-mail gift certificates can be redeemed only online.

Gift e-nouncement: Afraid that the gift isn't going to get there in time?

At the Harry and David gourmet food site, at http://www.harryanddavid.com , gift givers can send e-nouncements to let family or friends know a package is on its way.

The e-mail resembles an online greeting card and can feature a picture and description of the gift and a personal message. The cost of the gift, of course, is not included.

*

Christine Frey covers personal technology. She can be reached atchristine.frey@latimes.com.

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