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Shopping sites on the Web
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

My favorite shopping sites on the Web

Bit Player for March 23, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Shopping on the Internet is easy. But is it safe? And how do you know which online stores are trustworthy?

Safety is important because Internet shopping depends on credit-card information that you type onto a Web page. Trust is especially important because you can't size up an online store the way you judge regular stores. An impressive Web site could be just a façade.

Let's start with the basics. You can't shop effectively on the Web if you're using an old Web browser. If you haven't upgraded to the latest version of Netscape's browser or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, now is the time to do it. Both of them support the security measures that are needed to shop on the Web.

AOL users should ditch the AOL browser and use either of the two browsers mentioned above. To do this, follow these steps:

Log on to AOL and select the Members option. Select Preferences. From the preference menu, choose WWW. Select Helper Applications. Highlight and double-click on HTML Text Files (*.htm).

Select "Use a Separate Application" and enter the full path to your new browser. Go back to WWW Preferences and choose Dump Cache.

To keep credit-card information private, you should choose sites that use what is called a secure-transaction method. You will see the words "secure transaction" or something similar on all Web sites that use this system. Secure Web sites encode information that is sent back and forth, using a method that is hard to crack. (It's not impossible to crack, but it's hard enough to discourage most hackers.)

No one knows exactly how many shopping sites you can reach on the Web. The number is clearly in the thousands, and is growing perhaps at the rate of a few hundred a month. Many thousands of other sites provide online ordering for specific products.

A site you cannot afford to ignore is PriceWatch at, which supplies an easy way to compare prices on computer-related products. You probably will be surprised or perhaps even shocked at the low prices from some dealers when you do a search on PriceWatch. It displays the 50 lowest prices for any item, along with the dealers or stores and their Web addresses and phone numbers. A quick click and PriceWatch will take you to a more detailed description of the store.

One of the veteran shopping sites in the brief, four-year history of the Web is the Internet Shopping Network at ISN specializes in computers, software and computer peripherals (devices used with computers). Unlike many other online stores, ISN carries a large inventory and its ordering software immediately checks the full inventory when you select an item from its online catalog. If the product is not in stock, you are informed right away.

I've purchased five or six items from ISN over the last 18 months, each time receiving the products within two days. Prices were comparable to those of other discount sources on all but one of the items I ordered. That item -- a very large hard drive -- was $200 less from ISN than from any other source, on the Web or otherwise.

Another favorite is Surplus Direct at (Yes, the question mark is part of the address.) Surplus Direct sells software and hardware (computers and peripherals) at amazingly low prices -- a few dollars for many of its software titles, for example -- and keeps everything organized for easy shopping.

My pick of online stores for memory chips is BalaTech at BalaTech's site offers easy-to-understand explanations of the many kinds of RAM chips, and its store personnel will call you if necessary to make sure you're ordering the right chips. RAM prices at BalaTech are among the lowest in the country, too.

A dealer I've mentioned in many past columns as the best source for SCSI hard drives is also on the Web. It's Corporate Systems Center at CSC also carries ordinary hard drives, called IDE or EIDE, but it specializes in drives that plug into a SCSI bus.

(Macs, Unix computers and many modern PCs use SCSI drives. I've written about the advantages of SCSI before, so I'll just mention them in brief: True multitasking that frees the computer's main processor to do other things, easy daisy-chaining of multiple drives, simple connections for CD-ROMs, scanners and other peripherals, a much higher drive-size limit and no conflicts between drive size and the computer's BIOS.)

Other online stores you may want to check into:

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