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American University
 
Online Shopping Guide: Computers & Electronics

Here is a very selective list of online shopping sites you might want to visit, compiled by Washington Post staff writers. Click on the links below to go to the other sections of the chart.

Clothing | Books & Music | Electronics | Food | Toys | Tickets | Beauty | Luxury


Amazon.com
What they're selling: Consumer electronics, software
Shipping: Standard (3-7 days): $4.95 per shipmen, plus 45 cents per pound on electronics; $4 per order plus 95 cents per title on software. Second-day air: $8.95 per shipment, plus 85 cents per pound; $7 per shipment, plus $1.95 per title on software. Next-day air: $12.95 per shipment plus $1.95 per pound on electronics; $11 per shipment plus $2.95 per title on software.
Gift wrapping: $1.95 to $4.95 per item
Return Policy: Call or e-mail for a return authorization; no refunds on shipping costs unless Amazon made a mistake.
Discounts: None.
Critique: Probably the best search engine around, and excellent consumer information. Most products come with a review by Amazon staff (they can't seem to trash a product, but they are straightforward about pointing out flaws in particular features) and customers (they have no problem with trashing a product). Pricing isn't always the best around, but this is one of the least stressful shopping experiences around.
Buy.com
What they're selling: Consumer electronics and computer hardware of every sort imaginable
Shipping: "Based on weight." A Toshiba DVD player, for instance, would cost $13.44 by UPS ground, $32.41 for second-day air and $52.44 for next-day air.
Gift wrapping: None.
Return Policy: Accepted within 30 days of purchase. Shipping costs not refunded, and Buy.com will only pay for return shipping if the item is defective.
Discounts: Free UPS ground shipping on consumer-electronics products. Site will refund the difference between its prices and those of competitors if you find a lower price within 24 hours of placing your order.
Critique: Clumsy searching and browsing options, and little information provided on particular products. But the prices are usually much lower than competitors. This is the site to visit when you know exactly what you want; window shoppers should avoid it.
Outpost.com
What they're selling: Consumer electronics, computer hardware and software
Shipping: Free overnight shipping on all items.
Gift wrapping: None.
Return Policy: Must request a return authorization within 30 days of purchase; customer pays for shipping unless Outpost.com delivered the wrong item.
Discounts: None.
Critique: Best shipping deal in the business; the savings from this are often enough to outweigh competitors' lower prices. Limited selection of consumer electronics, though; this is a better destination for computer shoppers.
Crutchfield
What they're selling: Audio and video gear for homes and cars.
Shipping: Second-day air for $3.95 (orders up to $99.99), $6.95 (orders from $100 to $399.99) or $9.95 (orders over $400).
Gift wrapping: None.
Return Policy: Products ship with prepaid return label, but the original shipping charge is not refunded.
Discounts: None clearly displayed.
Critique: Nice site, well organized but actually not much advantage to using this instead of this Richmond-based retailer's catalogue. Both offer considerable background information; the catalogue looks better and is more portable than my computer's monitor-and it lists a few more products than the Web site. Fortunately, you can request a catalogue online.
800.com
What they're selling: Audio and video hardware, computer gadgets, music, videos and games
Shipping: Consumer electronics ship via UPS ground; rates vary. For instance, a Philips TiVo personal video-recorder would cost $19.95 to ship.
Gift wrapping: None.
Return Policy: 30-day money-back guarantee; if item isn't defective, customers pay for shipping in both directions. (Seven-day return policy applies to digital cameras, camcorders and portable DVD players).
Discounts: New customers save $20 on purchase of $100 or more; free shipping on DVD players and large-screen televisions.
Critique: The comparison tool is great, as is the display of specifications for each product, but why can't the site get anybody to contribute more than a review or two of any of its listed products. Inventory is also spotty-it doesn't carry anything by Sony, for instance. But free shipping and ongoing discounts make this worth checking out.

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