Supermarkets know you hate grocery shopping–so they’re speeding things up with new gadgets and services.
The handheld scanners at ALBERTSONS let you skip the checkout line entirely. Now available in its Dallas-area stores, and nationwide in the next 18 months, the scanners let you scan and bag as you select items. Then just swipe your credit card through the scanner to pay.
STOP & SHOP’s carts with scanner and touch-screen computer combos are like personal grocery assistants. E-mail your list to the store, then swipe your Stop & Shop card through the cart’s computer to call up your list. Scan and bag items as you go (the computer alerts you to sales), and check out by swiping your credit card through the scanner-computer. Three stores in Massachusetts have this technology; 150 more nationwide will offer it by the end of 2005.
WEGMANS has “helping hands” in all of its stores–employees on call to help with everything from pushing your cart if you can’t (screaming baby, broken leg, etc.) to loading groceries into your trunk , while you load your kids into the car.
Three PIGGLY WIGGLY stores in South Carolina have installed fingerprint scanners to speed up the checkout process (this technology will arrive in all 120 of the Southern supermarkets this year). Your fingerprint and credit card or ATM information are stored together on a secure server; after scanning and bagging items at the checkout, you can pay your total with just one touch.
Expert shopping tips
With a little organizing advice from Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game (grocerygame.com), you can cruise the aisles in record time (and save a few bucks, too!).
* Know your store layout. If you don’t already have the aisles memorized, ask for a map (some stores offer them or you can make your own). Shopping is a lot quicker when you know exactly where you’re going.
* Organize your list. Arrange your list by aisle. Grouping like items together will mean less doubling back for things you forgot. Put a “C” next to items with coupons.
* File your coupons in aisle order. Use a coupon file from an office-supply store and keep the front pocket empty for the clippings you’ll use that day.
* Shop for heavy items first. Cruise the inside aisles for heavy items like dog food before you hit the perimeter, where fragile things like eggs and bread are kept. Skip aisles that don’t have anything on your list–just passing through them will tempt you to buy the high-priced, unhealthy processed foods that lurk there.
* Bag items the way you’ll organize them at home. Putting groceries away is much quicker when your frozen-food, produce, and pantry items are each in their own bag.
Using the asa softball bats has its many advantages for players. With a good bat, you can score more runs and be able to get more hits and have higher number of wins while playing softball. When you are using good bats, you can lessen the number of ground outs and enhance the count of your single runs and even turn them into doubles. You need to consider a number of factors while picking your kind of bat. The length, weight, size of barrel, taper and grips are some of the most vital factors that you need to give importance to while picking a bat for your softball playing.
First of all, you should choose a bat which is long enough to reach the level of your waist from the ground. When you stand straight with arms on your sides, the tip of the bat should be at your waist level. With a bat of a good length, you can get more runs.
The weight of your softball bat is another vital factor to consider. The weight of the bat actually depends on the strength of the player who uses it. Naturally, a thumb rule for players is to consider the weight of the bat while swinging it during trials. If you are able to swing a bat with great speed and use your hands in a comfortable manner without experiencing any strain, you should pick it. Whether the bat is light or heavy does not matter. Moreover, your decision should not be influenced by the price, material or craftsmanship of the bat. Your bat should be light enough in weight for you so that you can swing your bat easily and can strike your ball farther.
The term “barrel” of a bat refers to the top section of a bat. The size of a barrel comprises of its diameter and its length. The standard barrel of any bat for softball playing has a diameter of 2.3/4 inch. As a player, it is actually a matter of choice whether or not you like a bat with a smaller or a longer barrel.
The diameter of the handle of a bat for softball playing is referred to as “taper”. Bats of a standard size come with a taper which is 31/32 of an inch. However, the taper can be larger or smaller on the basis of how much a bat weighs. Some players like bats with a larger taper. However, some players prefer a narrow taper which helps them to move around their wrist quickly and more easily at the time of swinging their bat.
The term “grip”, with reference to a bat for softball playing, indicates the covering on its handle. Some bats made of aluminum have a covering made of synthetic or leather. Some others consist of a covering made of rubber. Synthetic or leather covering provides players with a stickier feel and can ensure a stronger grip. A rubber covering, on the other hand, absorbs shocks from strikes in a better way.
If you’ve received presents you can’t use (or, let’s be honest, just don’t like), put them back in circulation. Sixty-eight percent of women surveyed by Money Management International, a consumer-counseling organization, in 2007 had regifted or planned to, so ditch any pangs of guilt and throw a regifting party with friends. Each guest contributes, say, two or three new but utterly unwanted items (maybe an unopened DVD, bath gel, or a trendy scarf) and gets to choose the same number of castaways from friends. Best-case scenario: You score gifts just right for people on your list–think teacher, sister-in-law, or teenage babysitter. It’s a win-win: “I once received a candle set that I just never used, so I brought it to the party,” says Tanisha Warner, a mum from Houston. “The person who got it was thrilled.”
2 SWAP LOOSE CHANGE FOR A GIFT CARD
Turn those coins piling up in jars around the house into a gift card or eCertificate (starting at $5) that can be used at a favorite store or merchant. Wrap it up for giving, or use it for your holiday shopping. All you need to do is go to coinstar.com to locate one of 16,000 Coinstar machines at a store near you, and load in your loose change. When you exchange it for a gift card or eCertificate, you don’t pay any fees. Choose gift cards from–among others–iTunes, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Borders, and eCertificates for amazon.com, JCPenney, and more.
3 SNAG GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT
At https://www.cardcash.com/, you can nab secondhand gift cards (brand-new or partially used) at low prices, and then either give them to someone or use them yourself to shop away. “Many people have gift cards that they don’t want or will never use, so having cash is the better alternative, especially in this economy,” says the site’s Marc Gendron. Inventory is updated throughout the day, with 1,400-plus merchants represented. For buyers, deals are sweet–up to 40 percent off face value. We’ve seen a $1,000 Tiffany & Co. card going for $750. The site guarantees all cards listed–value is vetted, and the expiration date of and conditions for each card are clearly posted–so you don’t have to worry about getting fleeced. And if you have a card with a minimum balance of $25 that you want to sell, the site will pay you up to 85 percent of the face value.
4 WRAP IN GOOD COMPANY
You want an array of beautiful packages under the tree, but trimmings can get expensive. Instead of resigning yourself to one jumbo roll of red paper, throw a wrapping party. Each guest spends a little but ends up with a lot of cheerily wrapped packages. Janice Benoit of Lisle, IL, a mom of three, has held one of these parties for years with pals. The how-tos: Ask each guest to bring a couple of rolls of paper, some ribbon, and other supplies–plus several gifts in need of wrapping. Set up stations with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, tags, and pens; everyone rotates, taking breaks to savor no-fuss treats like cheese and fruit.
5 OFFER A TOAST
A nice wine goes a long way toward holiday cheer, but you don’t have to break the bank buying it. Every December, GHRI’s Carolyn Forte buys a case (12 bottles) of Italian reds so she can get a case discount of 20 percent at her New Jersey store. “I like Italian reds because they’re often a good value, have pretty labels, and go with everything from pizza to pasta to steak,” says the home-care expert. She chooses wines that cost about $10–with the case discount, that’s a quick and simple gift for about $8 a pop, perfect for everyone from neighbors to the mail carrier. Also try wine.com, which sometimes offers one-cent shipping on any 12 bottles sent to one address. (Check the site for your state’s shipping regulations.) Affordable wine picks to consider, from GH Food Director Susan Westmoreland: red Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2008, from Tuscany, $11; Spanish white Marques de Caceres Rioja Blaneo 2008, $8; and sparkling white Spanish Cristalino Brut Cava, $8.
6 SHIP FOR FREE
Of course you want your e-shopping delivered for free, and in this year’s softer economy, you are more likely than ever to get it. One smart strategy: Log onto paypal.com for a range of shipping deals and discounts if you pay via PayPal service at many big sites. Some e-stores, like beauty.com, offer free shipping on most items (if new customers spend $25; returning customers, $49). When buying gift cards online, seek out sites that send them at no charge, such as Lands’ End, QVC, and Nordstrom.
7 CHECK OUT SOLID-GOLD SITES
Quality matters, and so does a solid reputation, especially when times are tough, so check out these A-list retailers who are wooing your business: L.L.Bean (llbean.com) will offer a $10 gift eard (good through February 16, 2010) with a purchase of $25 or more. Well-heeled Brooks Brothers (brooksbrothers.com) will take $10 off your first purchase of $50 just for registering at their site. And at apple.com, you get two free lines of engraving on the iPod Nano, Touch, or Shuffle–for example, “You Make My Heart Sing,” when you treat your guy.
The algorithm at the core of the Blackhole ($99 street) evolved from presets found in Eventide’s flagship DSP4000 and H8000 processors, as well as the Space stompbox. While the Blackhole may be used to create viable earthbound reverb sounds, its raison d’être is to empower sonic adventurers to explore hitherto uncharted realms of audio time and space. The Blackhole is compatible with AAX, VST, and AU plugin formats, and it requires an iLok2 USB key for authorization. I tested the AAX version in Avid Pro Tools 10 on a 6-core Apple Mac Pro running Lion. Installation took place with the rapidity of a decaying nutrino.
Interaction with the Blackhole occurs via fully automatible knobs, switches, buttons, and sliders. An ingenious virtual Ribbon Controller lets you program two sets of parameters, and continuously morph between them by mousing over the screen-length “ribbon” (or by clicking the buttons on either side of it). Other controls include Hotswitch (which lets you instantly toggle between two sets of parameters), Kill (which mutes the input so that you hear only the reverb tail), Freeze (which captures and loops audio in the reverb buffer, and allows you to manipulate the sound using the Blackhole’s controls), and Gravity (a reverb-decay knob that sweeps from dense/quickly decaying to long/smoothly decaying throughout half its range, and from reverse reverbs to wild time-inversion effects throughout the other half).
Additionally, you can vary reverb size and wet/dry mix, equalize reverb tails with the very effective Low (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 350Hz) and High (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 2kHz) controls, adjust the resonance of the Low and High filters, and modulate reverb tails with Moddepth and Modrate. Up to two seconds of predelay are available. With Tempo mode off, predelay is not synced to tempo, and beat values are displayed in milliseconds. With Tempo Sync engaged, predelay tempo is synced to the host sequencer, or if you choose Tempo Man, you can tap in the tempo, or dial in a set value.
I used the Blackhole on all types of tracks, including drums and percussion, electric guitars, hammered dulcimer, and kalimba, and I always got singular and often mindblowing results. In some cases, I was actually able to generate entirely new compositional frameworks by setting the Mix control to 100 percent wet, and letting the Blackhole do its thing on a separate track. While the Blackhole is mostly about real-time control, it does come with some superb presets—although they require an inefficient four clicks to load.
The Blackhole generates multiverses of new sonic possibilities for a c-note, making it an indespensible tool for anyone looking to expand their aesthetic horizons.
I have to admit it: I never really liked the idea of plugging a synth into a top guitar distortion pedal. Lots of folks have done it in varying contexts. But every time I busted out the Boss Super Overdrive that’s been with me since 1983, something didn’t feel right. But then I heard a couple of records that turned me around. First I heard Orgy’s searing cover of the New Order classic, “Blue Monday.” Not too adventurous as cover versions go, but it had this great distorted bass guitar/synth/I-don’t-what-it-is that sure sounded mean.
Then I discovered the band Deadsy, who used a similar sound, stripped and naked, all over their debut disc, Commencement. This was really killing me. Both Orgy and Deadsy were primarily produced and recorded at the same studio; these guys all seemed to know each other. To cut a long story short, I befriended one the guitarists in Deadsy, and I had my answer. The sound I was hearing wasn’t a guitar or bass, but in fact a Roland JP-8080 synthpatched into a Boss Hyperfuzz pedal. Actually, two of ’em, for stereo. My friend Carlton was controlling all this with a Z-Tar MIDI controller for a sort of futuristic guitar vibe, which I later experienced myself when I filled in on a handful of live shows.
Since then I’ve made a practice of using this big, growling tone in a number of production styles. What’s great is that sounds sort of like power chords, but it’s deeper, darker, and fuzzier, so it’s nice for filling in the space between bass and electric guitar. Of course there are a ton of ways to distort a synth, but I’ve found some really neat ones, and some secrets along the way that I’ll share. Aren’t you lucky?
Let’s make the synth patch. This is simple, and as long as you’ve got a virtual synth with two oscillators, just about anything will do the job. Select sawtooth waveforms on both oscillators. We’ll make the first oscillator the “root” note, and then set the interval on the second oscillator a perfect fifth up; this is equivalent to seven half-steps up. The filter should be the standard lowpass variety. Cutoff frequency will need to be really low, so the distortion doesn’t sound like a total buzz saw, but it’s best to play with the setting once you set up the distortion. The same goes for the resonance setting. We don’t want any filter envelope, so make sure the filter envelope intensity is zeroed out. The amplitude envelope should be a straight on-off affair; attack at zero, decay at zero, sustain full up and release almost zero.
Now we have a relatively dull one-finger power chord patch. Here’s where you’ll want to plug this guy into a distortiondevice. Now, the fuzzbox of choice can make all the difference between blah and blazam, so choose your weapon carefully, rock soldier. What I’ve found is that the best sounding fuzzboxes usually don’t live inside a computer. And the more extreme, the better. Overdrive or tube screamer-type stomp boxes are usually intended for guitarists to beef up their tone a bit when plugging into an already distorted guitar amp–not what we’re after here. Fuzz boxes aren’t meant to preserve the natural tone of the $4,000 Les Paul you just got, they’re meant to destroy it. The aforementioned Boss Hyperfuzz is such a device, and it sounds great for power chord synth mayhem. I’ve found most octave-fuzz devices sound really awesome in this setting. The venerable ProCo Rat makes a neat synthdistorter too. And my secret weapon: the Danelectro French Toast octave-fuzz. Super cheap, super noisy. Sounds amazing with the octave switch on!
When using stomp boxes, keep in mind that their inputs are designed for electric guitars, which have meager output, so turn things down real quiet. Remember to experiment with the synth’s filter cutoff and resonance controls; you’ll be amazed at how dark the filter can get and still achieve great fuzz tones. Another neat trick: Plug the fuzzbox into a real amp or an amp simulator. No crazy gain settings; use a moderate crunch, such as on Fender Twin or Bassman models. And finally, try some stereo chorusing or doubling to widen up your wall of fuzz; always at the end of the chain; chorus plugged into distortion is bad ugly, not good ugly. Until next month, rattle those fillings with the rawk!
One of the major buzzwords of the late ’90s in the press is e-commerce. Most companies, if they are not selling online already, are rushing to join the mass of online merchants. You can purchase virtually anything online – books, videos, software, CD-ROMs, CDs, tapes, downloadable music, posters, apparel, musical instruments and pro and consumer audio products. You can also book travel arrangements, send flowers, buy a car and have your groceries delivered tomorrow morning. All you need is a credit card and many sites will also accept cheques electronically. Of course you can also send in payment by snail mail or place a credit card order by FAX or phone.
So far, a very small portion of Internet users are shopping online although the numbers increase daily and onlineshopping now totals billions of dollars annually. Most of the hesitance is based on fears of having your credit card information stolen or getting ripped off by some far distant unscrupulous company. A lot of the fears concerning credit cards are greatly exaggerated – I would be much more concerned with the security of the mail system and many traditional sales channels. That said, some caution should be exercised.
First, as in any purchase, be aware of the reputation and business practices of any merchants online or not. When visiting websites, be wary of companies with no phone or address listed or just a post office box. The Internet has spawned thousands of basement operations, and although most are probably honest, they will be very hard to find if you have a problem. Look for their number of years in business and such things as money-back guarantees. Call them up and speak to the customer service people and satisfy yourself that they are a real company.
If you are using your credit card online, make sure they are using a secure server that delivers your order information in an encrypted format. If this makes you uncomfortable, place your order by phone or FAX.
If you are purchasing a high-ticket item such as a musical instrument or pro audio gear, you don’t have the chance to try the product, you will have little support or backup and you may have warranty problems, especially for anything purchased in another country. What seems like a bargain may not be if you have problems and need repairs, instruction or support later.
To find products you are looking for you can type product keywords into the major search engines or major music sites. There are also many online malls that connect you to a variety of online retailers.
By now most of us fashion obsessives know how to get our hands on an It bag: Call the store the minute it appears on the runway, pay in advance, and maybe bribe the salesperson. But when you need to stock up on all your major purchases for the season, what’s the best way to get what you want without wasting hours on multiple unsuccessful shopping trips? Is it possible to put together a new wardrobe without combing the shelves? Do only celebrities and high rollers get the attention of the sales staff? Though you may not get the store to shut down so you can shop without distractions–like, say, Jennifer Lopez can–and you would probably have to do some big-time spending to penetrate a designer’s private studio, your shopping experience can still be easy and pleasurable.
Few people realize that VIP status at stores is there for the taking. Forget trolling racks to find your size, running from floor to floor to put a complete look together, waving down an inattentive salesperson, or lugging bags around all day. Have someone else do it for you. Don’t worry–you don’t need a celebrity paycheck; most major stores offer personal shopping at no extra cost. (They’re able to afford this luxury because the hope is you’ll be spending more money than if you were shopping alone.)
“People should feel special, whether they are beginning shoppers or they have reached the pinnacle and can buy anything they want,” says Elaine Mack, Bergdorf Goodman’s head personal shopper. “And they can achieve this by working with a personal shopper.” The process couldn’t be simpler. If you are a first-timer, a private session usually entails having an initial dialogue about your likes, sizes, clothing needs, and budget. “It can be 10 to 30 minutes,” says Mack, followed by an appointment lasting anywhere from one to four hours. And when you arrive at the store, voila–you’ll have a stocked dressing room waiting. From there you’ll start wardrobe building. Your fashion pro will ensure that everything fits (or is tailored right there) and offer a how-to on mixing and matching, accessorizing, and what to wear when.
“I don’t walk up and down Madison Avenue and flip through racks,” says Vie Luxe co-founder Marjorie Gubelmann Raein, who favors classic cuts and styles. “I like department stores and working with a personal shopper. I like the variety. You can try it on all at once and get everything altered right there, and it shows up at your house a few days later.” Just as immediate alterations are key to skillful shopping, having your bags shipped or delivered to your home after a purchase is a must. Walking out of a store bag-free lets you shop unfettered for the rest of the day. “I never walk away with a bag,” says stylist Andrea Lieberman, who works with Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, and Faith Hill and, needless to say, has spent an impressive amount of time visiting stores.
Not only do department-store shopping gurus know the ins and outs of their retail territory and the best of designers’ collections, but they’re master decoders of the varying sizes of clothing (a 6 in Balenciaga isn’t necessarily a 6 in Bill Blass). They are also a direct line to the most covetable items. “We know when the good things are coming in and where they are hidden. You need our eyes when you’re going through the store,” says Mack, a 31-year veteran of Bergdorf’s. “If there’s a certain bag that’s not on the floor because it hasn’t been replenished, we know if it’s in the stockroom. We can reserve it for you before it gets out.”
The benefits of having a personal shopper don’t stop at getting dibs on the hot pieces. “We’ll arrange lunch, set up a makeup consultation, and open up the store after-hours,” says Barneys New York studio services director Laura Mannix. “We’ll even go to your house and do your closet.” Another big bonus of making friends with a store insider is having first pick of the seasonal bargains. “You can preview the sales two or three weeks before everyone else,” says Mannix.
This same doting service is found in most small high-end boutiques as well–and it can get even more specialized (think packing your bags for trips). The one caveat? Loyalty. Building a relationship with a store and a sales associate and consistently proving your allegiance to them (by spending money) are vital to getting the best above-and-beyond service. According to Kirna Zabete co-owner Sarah Easley, being monogamous with one fashion broker pays off: “We e-mail images to our good clients, we send things out on approval, we’ll come over to your house with racks, and we’ll send alterations to your office,” she says. “We have a very sophisticated computer system that records everything you’ve ever bought. We know your closet better than you do!”
Finding the right person to be your run-way-to-reality link is essential. “It’s about starting a rapport with someone you trust, whose opinions you trust, who has your best interests in mind,” says Lieberman. “It’s like any relationship: You have to find someone you feel comfortable with.” Once that bond is established, it’s all about VIP treatment. “In my stores all of our clients are celebrities,” says Jeffrey Kalinsky of his namesake fashion meccas in New York and Atlanta. “There is nothing that we do for a person who is famous that we won’t do for someone who is not.”
Ikram Goldman’s Chicago boutique is just as service-oriented. “We couldn’t make it easier for our customers. We tell them what to wear with what, we pack for them, we give them ideas on how to put their look together,” says Goldman, who’s even helped customers get ready for big nights out, going so far as arranging pre-event hair and makeup in her store. “We do whatever makes our customers happy.”
While being pampered is certainly something we could all use, many of us just want to get our shopping done as fast as possible. In the busy lives of women today, saving time is the real luxury. “Believe it or not, most women don’t love to shop,” says Mack. “They just want it done efficiently, and working with someone who knows the merchandise is probably the biggest time-saver.” If even a personal-shopping appointment sounds too high-maintenance for you, try calling ahead and having a staffer prepare a dressing room for you. “Connect with someone on the sales floor, and they can prepull for you,” suggests Mannix.
Other ways to get in and out of a store in a flash? Keep your credit-card number on file at your favorite haunt and avoid the wait at the register. Some small boutiques will even offer house accounts to their big customers. And shop at off-peak hours. “The trick is to go right when the store opens,” says Oprah Winfrey stylist and Bazaar contributor Jenny Capitain. “You have the whole store to yourself, and everything is organized from the night before.” For city shopping Capitain also recommends hiring a car to cover lots of ground.
Perhaps the ultimate luxury in shopping would be not shopping at all. Employing a stylist like red-carpet regulars do can cost thousands of dollars a day, but there’s no need to break the bank. Learning to shop deftly and efficiently can make the difference between a failed closet-restocking mission and a successful one.
Log on and start shopping. Everyone else is.
People are making millions of dollars on the Internet (though you’re probably not one of them), and millions more are being lost on the Internet (with any luck, not by you). Stock valuations of “dot com” businesses are in the billions, but many of them are still unprofitable. Companies ponder how to make money from the Internet, and in the process online retailing has become a new economy. During 1999 consumers in North America alone bought some $33 billion of products via the Internet; this year, the total is expected to exceed $60 billion. Advances in software have made online shopping as simple as a few mouse clicks.
The holiday buying season provides an ideal time to check out Internet storefronts –so I did. Although dozens of astronomical instrument and accessory dealers have information online, they all aren’t “e-stores.” I examined only those that offered online ordering of telescopes, excluding those that required a phone call or fax to place an order.
- Adorama Inc. | www.adorama.com
- Anacortes Telescope & Wild Bird | www.buytelescopes.com
- Apogee Inc. | www.apogeeinc.com
- Camera Corner | www.camcor.com
- Discovery Store | www.discovery.com
- Eagle Optics | www.eagleoptics.com
- Edmund Scientific Co. | www.scientificsonline.com
- eHobbies | www.ehobbies.com
- Focus Camera & Video | www.focuscamera.com
- Hardin Optical Co. | www.hardin-optical.com
- Lumicon | www.lumicon.com
- Oceanside Photo & Telescope | www.optcorp.com
- Orion Telescopes & Binoculars | www.telescope.com
- Shutan Camera & Video | www.shutan.com
- Stellarvue | www.stellarvue.com
- Wolf Camera | www.wolfcamera.com
No comparative pricing was done. The “street prices” of products generally don’t vary much among retailers. Nevertheless, individual merchants can offer Web specials, such as discontinued items or discounts on accessories bundled with a telescope purchase.
The vast majority of these sites use a virtual shopping basket or cart. As you browse products, clicking on a Buy It button logs your choice. Click on a Continue Shopping button, or use the Back button of your Web browser to explore further. You can add and remove products from your cart as you wish. When done making your selections, proceed to the Checkout, where you enter payment, billing, and shipping information. Often your order will be confirmed with e-mail.
A deal-killer for me when buying anything online is not knowing the final cost of an order before entering my credit-card number. While a company may note that a shipping fee will be added, guessing how much it costs to ship a telescope –or any large, heavy object–may prove surprising. When I purchased a new computer monitor via the Internet two years ago, one company would have charged me $70 for shipping. The monitor itself was a few dollars more at the business I finally bought it from, but shipping it added only $20.
The shopping basket allows you to do as much browsing as you like without commitment. Nothing is finalized until you submit your order, and in fact many Internet users merely window-shop. Studies have revealed that consumers fail to finalize about one-quarter of their transactions in online stores. This could be because the person was just browsing, the buyer changed his or her mind (“Wait a minute, will this Dobsonian fit in the Yugo?”), or a technical problem caused termination of the session. Wolf Camera e-mailed me two reminders about my abandoned shopping cart.
Similarities and Differences
The shopping experiences at these online stores were similar. All of the sites were easy to navigate to find specific products. Of the 22 companies examined, all allowed shipping to alternative addresses (to a business or a friend) and all but one had a shopping cart. The exception to the latter was Apogee, which provided a form to fill out and submit electronically to the company. This was the least-convenient ordering method because filling out the form required you to write down (or remember) the name and price of each item.
If you’ve already done your research –perhaps by examining telescopes at a local astronomy-club meeting–and know exactly what you want to buy, it’s easy to do some online comparison pricing. However, what if you don’t know which telescope to buy? Where can you find online sales help? Numerous sites offer guidance on how to select a telescope. Diagrams explain the types of optical systems, and some sites list the pros and cons of each. In a less-rigorous method, EfstonScience and Hardin Optical divide telescopes into categories for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users.
I expected that every store would make suggestions for additional purchases. Although “Want fries with that?” tactics are mocked for their annoyance factor, add-on sales are nevertheless a lucrative tool of retailers. Some companies listed only model-specific accessories, others went farther by recommending tripods, carrying cases, and books. Display the full description for a telescope to check for add-ons. In all, only half of the surveyed companies had some type of accessory suggestions.
A growing concern about Internet commerce is privacy. Companies collect information about you when you buy online: address, phone number, e-mail address, and credit-card number. Customers presume that their information won’t be passed to mass marketers. To reassure prospective customers, “e-tailers” often display privacy statements prominently on their sites explaining what, if anything, they will do with the information they collect, and about other aspects of the online store, such as the use of “cookies” (data saved by your Web browser so the store remembers who you are the next time you visit). Thirteen of the companies offer privacy statements.
Nevertheless, some people remain uneasy about entering their credit-card numbers and having them bounce who-knows-where through the Internet. Secure transmissions encrypt information so that it will be decoded only by the desired business. While sending credit-card numbers online is of great concern, it isn’t very different from reading your card number to someone during a phone call. In September, American Express announced plans to introduce single-use credit-card numbers. Each time you want to make an online purchase, you’ll obtain a set of numbers that will be valid for only that one purchase.
Online shopping offers many benefits. You can research products, print specifications, compare prices, and find a bargain –and do it all at midnight while eating the last piece of cheesecake. There’s no wasting gas and no hard sell by salespeople. Log on and shop.