Save time but be wary

On-line shopping has its benefits and its pitfalls.

Imagine that you are looking at a plan of a shopping mall. Instead of trying to remember whether the bookstore is left, left, right or left, right, left, before ending up in the chemist, you simply point the cursor at the name on the plan, and click. Welcome to Blackwells, and you are still sitting at home, oblivious to the rain pelting down outside, or even the scorching sunshine!

You have just "surfed" into the Blackwells branch in one of the new credit- card secure-shopping areas springing up on the Internet's World Wide Web. Credit card details can be used in these systems and shielded from cyberspace highwaymen. Without queuing at the till or hanging on the phone, you can order the book of your choice, and it will thump through your letter- box in a few days.

It is remarkably convenient, if dull. There are no book-laden shelves to browse, and no paper pages to thumb. Instead, you are merely looking at a list of titles. If you do select one, you can't take it home and start delving immediately. Internet shopping is not for those in pursuit of the full shopping experience, or even minor retail therapy.

The Internet is none the less a fantastic forum for buyer's research. Tesco, on Compuserve, offers a full wine advisory service. You can pinpoint a location on its world map, and learn what its viticulture has to offer. Tesco will also recommend a selection of wines to fit any menu and price range. However, unless you are prepared to hike to your local branch, you will have to wait up to 14 days before you reach for your corkscrew.

You can use the mine of information on the Net to find the cheapest widget in your area. At the moment, this could be time-consuming, but you will soon be able to program intelligent agents to hunt down that bargain widget, and even buy it for you.

Your research is of course limited to what is available on the Net. Within the shopping services already launched, this includes books, compact discs, flowers, existing mail order catalogues, a travel agent and a car dealer.

Outside of these UK-based secure services, the Internet is packed with offers of equipment and games for the computer enthusiast and all types of sexual material. Not only might your inquisitive 10-year-old read the pornography (which lurks in certain areas of the Internet), but, armed with your credit card, he or she might also buy it.

Everyday essentials are still missing from the UK-based stores. A low- cost supermarket on the Internet, which did an evening delivery round, and into which you could tap your shopping list as and when you think of an item, would be heaven-sent for many. But even Tesco and Sainsbury's only sell wine by the case. One of the fallacies of home economics is that it is cheaper to buy alcohol in bulk and drink it slowly over a long period of time. Also, if you actually want your wine the next day, Sainsbury's will charge you another pounds 27 for express delivery.

So is it cost-effective? If your interest in the Net is only for shopping, the monthly cost of between pounds 6.50 and pounds 15 to access it means that it is only economically viable if you do buy in quantity and minimise delivery costs.

Compuserve has a wide range of shopping services, and is secure for credit card transactions, but it is only available to subscribers, and the same will be true of Microsoft's new on-line service, expected later this month. A number of shopping centres are accessible free of charge via the Internet - but may not be secure for credit card use unless both you and the supplier are using the latest Netscape software.

The benefits are less easy to quantify. You can research the cheapest supplier - including special offers such as Virgin's "Buy 5 CDs get a 6th free". You do not have to pay the costs of travel to the stores and back.

But the most serious saving to be made by shopping on-line is time. Time is saved by not sitting in a traffic jam, trudging up and down the high street, or even clinging to the phone with Yellow Pages on your knees.

If time is money, and your hours saved from shopping can be converted into cash, then surfing to the shops could be worth it. But to get everything you want, you may have to venture outside the credit card secure services. If you do, then remember to ring the supplier with your card number and don't send it over the Net and into the arms of an electronic Dick Turpin.

Before you go shopping on-line:


Do remember that you are paying a monthly subscription; some systems also charge for time spent on line.

Do search out the cheapest supplier.

Do supply your credit card number only when you are using secure systems such as Barclaysquare and Compuserve.

Do make sure the children are not too smart for their own good.


Don't forget that you are spending real money, not playing a computer game.

Don't be tempted to order more than you really want, to obtain a bulk discount or to spread your overheads; it can easily turn out to be a false economy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

Money Insider: How to make credit cards pay

Andrew Hagger reveals how to get the most from your plastic

Questions of Cash: My 'perfect travel companion' from the Post Office was a waste of money

One reader purchased the Post Office Travel Money Plus Card for a motoring holiday but discovered it can't be used at self-service petrol stations or autoroute toll booths

Continuing low interest rates are encouraging more people to switch to interest-only mortgages

Interest-only mortgages return to give more flexibility to borrowers

The credit crunch put a temporary end to these once-popular mortgages. But lenders are waking up to rising demand and relaxing their rules

EU to scrap roaming charges in 2017: European Commission under fire for taking so long to act

UK consumer groups complained that British holidaymakers face another two years of mobile phone misery before the law comes into effect

On the money: Yorkshire building society has demonstrated that it is taking the P2P industry seriously

Is peer-to-peer lending a risk worth taking?

The P2P industry must do more to shake off an unjustified image of being too complex and risky for the everyday saver, says Andrew Hagger

Generating grievances: Scottish Power's Longannet station in Fife

Questions of Cash: Scottish Power says it's sorry - again and again

Six of the energy company's customer have cause to blow a fuse this week

Will Patisserie Valerie be the portfolio's sweet spot?

Derek Pain: 'Patience is a virtue but maybe I should cut and run'

Derek's portfolio is currently suffering because of his failure to be more ruthless

There are now more than three million people in “severe problem debt”

Debt managers are misleading vulnerable people, warns watchdog

One debtor was given a repayment plan that would have taken 125 years to repay

Challengers are smashing the traditional high street banks when it comes to offering decent savings rates

Ignore the new breed of savings institutions and you'll lose interest

NatWest has ripped up its pledge to never be the last bank in town

NatWest pledged five years ago it wouldn't close the last bank in town. Now villagers have been told the branch shuts in September

When the last bank closes, local shops quickly go out of business

Under new state pension rules we will all be much worse off

Why did no one notice? The Government hides behind complexity, says Neasa MacErlean

Bogus Islington landlord scams public for £20,000 in fake deposits

It’s not just Islington... Simon Read warns renters and landlords about a nationwide fraud operation

Questions of Cash: The paperwork wasn't right so I was left high and dry with a broken washing machine

A reader encountered a problem with a Currys washer/dryer care plan

Borrowers should steer clear of established providers to get the best rates

Interest rates have never been cheaper if you want a five-figure personal loan but for lower-value loans it's a very different picture

Personal banking: Banking chiefs at NatWest and RBS insist that they are over the worst of the technical issues but customers are still complaining of payment issues. NatWest has waived overdraft fees and told customers they can withdraw £100 more than their limit over the next few days

People’s bank in crisis again: What should you do about the NatWest/RBS meltdown?

Thousands still waiting for payments to go through

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test