online shopping tips

Fast-track your supermarket visits with these tips and tricks

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In-Store innovations

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.

Online shopping – dos and don’ts

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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.