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Buying Online: How to go shopping on the Web

SHOPPING CAN be frustrating; fighting the crowds in pursuit of a bargain can leave you stressed and irritable. With the Internet, you may not have to trek miles, but it can be just as hard to find what you're looking for.

For the new shopper - or Net user - finding the right place can be bewildering. Approach it like any shopping trip in a strange city and head for the mall. They may not be as visible as an out-of-town retail centre, but on-line malls, typically a collection of individual shopping sites, are growing.

You can usually take comfort in the branding behind them, too; BarclaySquare is one of the oldest, and you can be pretty safe when it comes to sending your credit card details, too. Stores featured include Argos, Interflora and Victoria Wine.

You won't find everything in one on-line mall, but a growing number of sites are making it easier.. One such is Enterprise City (www.enterprisecity.co.uk), which has a fairly comprehensive guide to UK Internet shopping and includes only stores that use secure shopping facilities. A similar service is now provided on the Lycos shopping network (www.lycos.co.uk/webguides/shopping/guide).

It's also wise to visit the manufacturer's home pages where a number include links to on-line stores that stock their products.

The Internet's search engines can also prove a powerful tool for shoppers. Typing the name or model number of something you want to buy into a search page like AltaVista (www.altavista.com) or Excite (www.excite.co.uk) will often return useful information. A handy tip is to combine the name of the product with a word like "buy" or "order" to see which pages have both on them.

Nigel Whitfield